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Is The Lottery a real book?

The Lottery is a short story written by Shirley Jackson that was first published in 1948 in The New Yorker magazine. It is one of Jackson’s most famous and chilling stories and has been widely anthologized. The Lottery takes place in a small unnamed American town and depicts a fictional small-town ritual known as “the lottery.” The lottery occurs every year and involves the town’s residents drawing slips of paper from a black box. The family that draws the paper slip with a black spot is selected as the “winner” and then each member draws again to determine who will be stoned to death as a sacrifice to ensure a good harvest.

The story examines how traditions, even deadly ones, can become so ingrained that people follow them blindly. The random selection and murder of an innocent person raise questions about morality and conscience and the potential dangers of groupthink. The Lottery chillingly demonstrates how people can carry out unjustified acts of violence and cruelty when pressured by social norms. Though the practice depicted is fictional, the story highlights real human tendencies toward unjust persecution and scapegoating.

Is The Lottery a Real Book?

Yes, The Lottery is a real published book. It was first published as a short story in The New Yorker in 1948, and then reprinted in Shirley Jackson’s 1949 short story anthology The Lottery and Other Stories. Since then, it has been published in countless anthologies, text books, and collections of Jackson’s work.

Some key facts about The Lottery as a published work:

  • Author: Shirley Jackson
  • First published: June 26, 1948 in The New Yorker
  • First book publication: The Lottery and Other Stories (Farrar, Straus and Company, 1949)
  • Pages: The short story is only about 3,400 words long
  • Genre: Short horror story/fiction

So while The Lottery describes a fictional event, the story itself is a real, published work that has had enduring popularity and influence since it first appeared. It continues to be read widely today, over 70 years after its initial publication.

What is The Lottery About?

The Lottery tells the story of an annual tradition practiced by the villagers of a small, rural town. Every year, the townspeople gather together in the town square, where the heads of households draw slips of paper from an old black wooden box. Households then draw individually until one person in the family draws the fateful slip with a black spot, signifying that they have been selected. According to tradition, each member of the chosen family then draws again to see who will be stoned to death by the rest of the villagers, both as a sacrifice and to ensure a bountiful harvest.

The story begins on the morning of June 27th, the day of the lottery. The villagers gather and make small talk, reluctant to begin. The lottery has been a tradition in the town for as long as anyone can remember. Mr. Summers, who runs the lottery along with other civic activities, officiates the event. He and Mr. Graves carefully store away the box after the lottery concludes each year.

The story examines how traditions can lose meaning over time yet still retain dangerous power. Although the villagers continue the lottery seemingly out of habit, some still clearly embrace the barbaric ritual it demands. Their willingness to cling to brutal traditions highlights the potential darkness within human society.

When Does The Lottery Take Place?

The exact year and time period during which The Lottery takes place is never made explicitly clear, but context clues within the story suggest it is set sometime in the mid-20th century, several decades before its publication in 1948.

Some key details about the setting include:

  • The story was published in 1948, so events almost certainly take place before then.
  • The townspeople talk about giving up the traditional wood chips to use slips of paper, suggesting a transition to more modern practices.
  • Coal is used as a cooking/heating fuel, indicating a time before dominance of oil and natural gas.
  • Maids, farmers, and other manual roles are mentioned, implying a semi-rural economy.

Based on these clues, most interpretations place the setting sometime between the 1890s to the 1930s or 1940s. The isolated, rural town seems untouched by major technological and societal advances of the mid-20th century. Overall, the time period is vague enough to contribute to the story’s sense of allegory and timelessness. The backward rituals reflect human tendencies that persist across eras.

Why Does the Setting Seem Vague or Timeless?

There are a few key reasons Jackson may have left the time period and setting vague:

  • To suggest these violent rituals could occur anywhere and anytime
  • To avoid directly reflecting any specific current event or society
  • To create an allegorical, parable-like quality
  • To hint at the story’s twist ending

The timelessness makes the story more unsettling and ominous. If it reflected a clearly defined period, it would be easier to distance oneself from the events. Instead, the story suggests that any community could fall prey to this groupthink and that human darkness persists across time.

Where Does The Lottery Take Place?

The Lottery is set in a small rural village of about 300 residents. No specific location, region, or state is ever named. The remoteness and isolation of the village contributes to the backward rituals the town upholds.

Some key details about the setting include:

  • The village has approximately 300 residents
  • It is isolated and remote, removed from larger towns or urban centers
  • The economy seems semi-rural, with farming and manual labor roles mentioned
  • Families gather in a town square for major events
  • The region has long cold winters mentioned

The village could be located almost anywhere with a rural, isolated population. However, some readers have noted that certain word choices, like “bean field” and “Delacroix,” sound New England-esque. But Jackson likely kept the location purposefully vague.

Why Does the Village’s Location Seem Non-Specific?

Some possible reasons Jackson left the village’s location open and non-specific:

  • To suggest any isolated community could adopt these rituals
  • To avoid critiquing any particular region
  • To make the story more allegorical and universal
  • To increase the cryptic, unsettled mood

Not rooting her fictional village in a real place makes the story more ominous. A vague, unknown setting makes the twisted ritual seem like it could happen anywhere with a closed-off population.

Can Similar Lottery Rituals Be Found in Real Life?

The exact lottery ritual depicted, involving random selection by slips of paper and culminating in a public stoning, is not known to have any direct real-life antecedents. The story itself is fictional. However, rituals involving randomness, sacrifice, scapegoating, and sanctioned violence have existed across human cultures and eras. Similar practices found in the real world include:

  • Human sacrifice: Ritual killing of humans was practiced in some ancient societies, though not always by lot.
  • Animals sacrifices: Ritual animal killings, often by lottery or chance, occurred historically.
  • Scapegoating: Banishing or killing individuals as a means of purification or protection from ill fortune.
  • Lottery punishments: Ruling powers have punished subjects by random lot.
  • Ritualized mob violence: Societies have sanctioned mobs to attack arbitrarily chosen targets.

So while no known town practices a lottery exactly like that described by Jackson, the story reflects the human capacity for unjustified violence justified by social rituals and mob mentalities. The horror comes from recognizing that human darkness reflected in fictional traditions.

Who Are the Main Characters in The Lottery?

The Lottery focuses more on the village and ritual as a whole rather than any single protagonist. But some notable characters include:

  • Tessie Hutchinson: The woman who “wins” the lottery and is stoned to death.
  • Bill Hutchinson: Tessie’s husband who draws the marked slip.
  • Mr. Summers: The leader who officiates the lottery proceedings.
  • Mr. Graves: Assists Mr. Summers in running the lottery.
  • The Hutchinson family: Tessie and Bill’s two sons and daughter.
  • Old Man Warner: The oldest man in town who staunchly defends the lottery.

Other minor characters like Nancy and Harry Jones, the Delacroix family, and the Martin household represent typical villagers. The town as a collective whole acts as a central character in itself, reflecting human social tendencies.

Who is Tessie Hutchinson?

– Wife of Bill Hutchinson
– Mother of two sons and a daughter
– Initially complacent about the lottery, but increasingly anxious as it looks like her family will “win”
– Protests the outcome when her family is selected
– Stoned to death at the story’s conclusion

Who is Old Man Warner?

– Oldest man in the village, 77 years old
– Remembers when the lottery involved wood chips instead of paper
– Staunch defender of the lottery tradition
– Dismisses other towns’ abandonment of the practice
– Implicitly sides with the stoning by showing up each year

What Events Lead up to the Lottery’s Climactic Ending?

The Lottery slowly builds sense of dread through small ominous details before its horrific ending. Key events include:

  • Villagers reluctantly gather in the town square
  • Mr. Summers and Mr. Graves set up the lottery equipment
  • Families draw slips of paper to see which is marked
  • Bill Hutchinson draws the marked slip for his family
  • Each Hutchinson family member draws individually
  • Tessie Hutchinson draws the paper with the black spot
  • After protests, the Hutchinsons draw again to see who will “win”
  • Tessie draws the marked paper and is stoned to death by the villagers

The mundane details and dialogue at the start provide an ironic contrast to the horrific murder of a woman at the end. The twist ending is prepared through subtle hints about the lottery’s true nature.

How Does Jackson Foreshadow the Ending?

Some subtle ways Jackson foreshadows the story’s dark ending include:

  • Mention of the lottery being conducted on stone in previous years
  • Villagers’ reticence to begin the event
  • Children gathering stones into a pile
  • Talk of crops being ready and the land being prepared
  • Talk of other towns quitting the lottery

These small odd details create an ominous mood and sense that something is amiss beneath the peaceful exterior. The ending rocks complacent assumptions.

What is the Message or Theme of The Lottery?

The Lottery explores themes related to:

  • Blind adherence to tradition: How people follow rituals without thinking.
  • Scapegoating and violence: Tendencies to unfairly blame individuals.
  • Groupthink: Pressure to conform to toxic group mentalities.
  • Human cruelty: Willingness to hurt others when accepted.

The story suggests traditions and rituals can mask dangerous, irrational behavior that individuals would avoid on their own but accept if social norms require it. Scapegoating transfers guilt to innocent targets. Jackson warns against blindly following group ideas without conscience. The story warns how any group could fall prey to violent groupthink.

Does the Story Have a Moral?

While it critiques mob mentality and blind ritual, the story doesn’t preach any clear moral. It acts more as a dark fable demonstrating human cruelty and conformity. The horror comes from recognizing ourselves and our own societies in even the darkest traditions.

Why Was The Lottery So Controversial?

The Lottery generated widespread controversy and backlash when it was first published in 1948 for several reasons:

  • The graphic, violent murder at the end startled readers.
  • The story critiqued conformity and tradition.
  • The twisted trope of small town American life upset many.
  • The darkness of the message distressed readers.
  • Some thought the story would negatively impact children.

The New Yorker reportedly received hundreds of letters expressing shock and outrage. Many readers canceled subscriptions. But many more praised Jackson’s skilled storytelling. The strong reactions demonstrated the story’s power. Jackson commented the story was intended “to shock people into thinking.” The public reaction showed people recognized something unsettling within themselves reflected in the tale.

Year Event
1948 The Lottery is published in The New Yorker magazine
1949 The Lottery is reprinted in Jackson’s short story anthology The Lottery and Other Stories
1950 A radio adaptation airs on NBC, sparking further controversy
1951 The Lottery is banned in the Union of South Africa for political themes
1969 A short film adaptation is produced, later available on YouTube
1996 A TV movie adaptation airs on NBC

Why Is The Lottery Such a Popular and Widely Taught Story?

There are several key reasons The Lottery has had enduring popularity since its publication:

  • The shocking, twist ending grabs readers.
  • It’s a compact, accessible story that can be read quickly.
  • The message about conformity resonates with readers.
  • The details and foreshadowing intrigue careful readers.
  • It lends itself to analysis, interpretation, and discussion.
  • The unsettling mood and horror are compelling.
  • It reflects timeless aspects of human psychology.

For these reasons, The Lottery is widely regarded as a classic short story and appears in countless literary anthologies. Its ambiguous nature provokes debate and invites analysis. The story continues to unsettle modern readers, proving its insights into human nature still highly relevant.

How is The Lottery Used in Education?

– Taught in many middle school and high school English and literature classes
– Basis for discussion of literary analysis, tone, mood, foreshadowing, irony
– Used to critically analyze themes of conformity, tradition, scapegoating
– Points to human tendencies towards unquestioning conformity
– Demonstrates how craft creates compelling, shocking narratives
– Seen as a classic short story that packs meaning into sparse words


Shirley Jackson’s 1948 short horror story The Lottery is considered a classic of American fiction. Though fictional, it explores real human tendencies toward dangerous conformity, groupthink, and unwarranted violence. The gradual building of suspense to a shocking ritual murder unpacks the willingness to ignore conscience and morality to follow social traditions. The story remains impactful and unsettling today. Its examination of the dark potential in human psychology continues to resonate with modern readers. The Lottery stands out as a stark allegorical warning against blind obedience to the collective and submission to unjust rituals.