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What are some questions about The Lottery by Shirley Jackson?

What is the setting of The Lottery?

The setting of The Lottery is a small rural village in the United States. The exact location and time period are never specified, but critics generally agree it is set in a contemporary 20th century American town. The story takes place on June 27th, when the villagers gather for their annual lottery event.

When and where does The Lottery take place?

The Lottery takes place on June 27th in a small rural village of about 300 people. The story does not provide an exact year or location, but it can be inferred from details that it takes place in a contemporary 20th century American town, sometime between the 1930s-1950s. The villagers gather in the town square, near a coal business and post office, suggesting a quaint small town setting.

What details about the setting provide clues about the time period?

– The population size of 300 suggests a rural village, not a larger town or city.
– The coal business suggests an industry common in early 20th century small American towns.
– Details like the post office and villagers owning farmland surround the town suggest a rural, old-fashioned setting.
– The lottery is conducted with papers slips and a wooden box, not more high-tech or modern methods. This suggests an earlier time before technological advancements.
– Women are housewives focused on chores like laundry and dishes, reflecting traditional gender roles more common decades ago.
– The isolated, close-knit community suspicious of outsiders reflects parochial attitudes associated with rural American life before the cultural changes of the 1960s.

How does the setting reflect key themes in the story?

The quaint, peaceful rural village setting contradicts the violent, inhumane ritual of the lottery that takes place there annually. This juxtaposition highlights the hypocrisy and brutality lurking beneath the civilized veneer of even the most seemingly normal communities. It suggests that tradition and groupthink can override moral objections to senseless violence. The isolated rural setting mirrors how conformity and mob mentality thrive when outside perspectives are shut out.

What is the plot of The Lottery?

The plot centers on an annual lottery held in a small rural village. The villagers gather to select one person at random to be stoned to death as a ritual human sacrifice. The story explores how this tradition is carried out casually by otherwise “normal” people.

What happens at the beginning of the story?

The opening scene describes the villagers gathering on the morning of June 27th for the annual lottery event. Children arrive first and play by gathering stones into a pile. Men and women chat casually as they arrive in the town square. The normalcy masks the sinister purpose behind this tradition.

What is the sequence of key events in the lottery?

1. Villagers arrive in the town square on June 27th morning.

2. Mr. Summers and Mr. Graves run the lottery proceedings.

3. Family heads draw slips of paper from an old wooden box.

4. Bill Hutchinson draws the paper with the black spot, meaning his family has been chosen.

5. Members of the Hutchinson family draw again to select the single “winner” of the lottery.

6. Tessie Hutchinson is chosen and protests the unfairness.

7. The villagers, including her own family, stone Tessie to death.

How does the story build suspense and foreshadowing?

Suspense builds through ominous foreshadowing details that something is amiss beneath the calm veneer:

– Children gather stones into a pile, hinting at the violent purpose.

– Mr. Summers and Mr. Graves oversee the serious ritual.

– Villagers avoid making eye contact, suggesting discomfort.

– Mrs. Delacroix says “get it over with”, foreshadowing a grim outcome.

– Mr. Adams mentions other nearby villages have stopped the lottery, hinting that this village clings to outdated traditions.

What is the climax and resolution of the plot?

The climax occurs when Tessie Hutchinson is chosen as the lottery “winner” who will be stoned to death by the villagers, including her own family. The resolution covers her frantic protests that the process was not fair, the village’s insistence on going through with it anyway, and the chilling final scene where the villagers, including children, brutally stone Tessie to death.

What are the major themes in The Lottery?

Major themes in The Lottery include:

Blind obedience to tradition

The villagers unquestioningly follow the cruel ritual year after year, simply because “it’s always been done.” This represents how traditions persist even if their original purpose is lost.

Scapegoating and senseless violence

The lottery selects an innocent villager as a scapegoat to be killed for no rational reason. This symbolizes tendencies towards mob violence and finding pressure release in random acts of evil.

Conformity and groupthink

No villagers openly object to the lottery. Even Mrs. Hutchinson only protests when she becomes the victim, showing how easily people accept injustice when it’s normalized.

The dichotomy between civilization and barbarism

The peaceful rural village setting juxtaposed with the brutal stoning ritual represents how savagery and “civilized” behavior can exist side-by-side in communities.

What are the key symbols in the story?

Symbols in The Lottery that carry deeper meaning include:

The Black Box

The shabby black lottery box represents how the ritual is decaying and losing meaning over time, yet persists out of habit.


The piles of stones the villagers gather to use as weapons symbolize how easily humans can be turned into a menacing mob.


“Graves” and “Summers” hint at cycles of death, while Tessie (“reaping”) is the harvest of the grim annual lottery.

June 27th

The date near the summer solstice associates the lottery with ancient seasonal rituals of human sacrifice.

What is the tone and mood of the story?

The tone is uneasy, cryptic, and unsettling. Common descriptors include:

– Ominous
– Foreboding
– Matter-of-fact
– Detached
– Eerie
– Alarming

The mood evoked is one of tension, dread, and creeping horror as the sinister undertones of the lottery build. The casual tone when describing the violence adds to feeling deeply unsettled by how ordinary people can behave cruelly without question.

How do things like diction, imagery, and syntax contribute to the tone?

– Plain diction like “lottery,” “winner,” “midday,” “village square” for such a twisted ritual adds subtle irony and contradictions.

– Imagery like stones piling up and villagers averting eyes clues something is wrong beneath the pleasant facade.

– Choppy syntax slows the pace, building subtle suspense and tension.

How does the contrast between the peaceful setting and violent ritual contribute to the mood?

The juxtaposition of the quaint village – children playing, gardens growing, pleasant routines – with the random selection and brutal murder of an innocent creates an extremely unsettling contradiction. The mood shifts from seeming normalcy to disturbance once the lottery’s true nature is revealed.

How does the point of view impact the story?

The story utilizes a third-person limited omniscient point of view, focused on the perspectives of specific villagers. Key effects include:


By avoiding any inner thoughts, the detached third-person narration adds an air of objectivity and reportorial distance. This clinical approach exacerbates the horror.

Authentic feel

Describing spoken dialog and actions gives the impression the reader is an observer. This adds to the realism and immediacy.


Despite being detached, the point of view still implies judgment on the villagers and their complicity through subtle descriptive choices.

Creeping awareness

The limited view builds suspense and a creeping sense of dawning awareness as the truth about the lottery slowly emerges.

Multiple perspectives

Shifting between specific villagers’ POVs provides a multifaceted view of the groupthink permeating the community.

How does the story reflect elements of American life and society?

The Lottery explores several aspects of postwar 20th century American life and culture:

Conformity and conservatism in small towns

The village’s unquestioning deference to tradition reflects conservatism and conformity to group norms that sociologists noted were stronger influences in rural American communities.

Critique of meaningless traditions and rituals

The story warns against following rituals without understanding their purpose – a caution against complacency in traditions and “the way things have always been done.”

Impact of isolation and protectionism

The village’s rejection of outside influence reflects the closed-off, insular attitudes common in remote American towns. Jackson suggests this isolationism cultivates regressive, mob-like behavior.

Rise of fascism and authoritarian systems

Scholars often interpret the mindless ritual as a commentary on the Holocaust and how even democratic societies can enable authoritarian brutality through blind obedience.

Theme Connection to American Society
Conformity Conformity was stronger in rural American towns.
Meaningless Traditions A critique of complacency about “how things have always been done.”
Isolationism American isolationism bred closed-mindedness.
Authoritarianism Blind obedience can enable fascist brutality even in a democracy.

How does the story reflect Shirley Jackson’s writing style?

“The Lottery” exemplifies these signature features of Jackson’s writing:

Unexpectedly sinister themes

Like her other works, the story hides a disturbing subject behind a “normal” facade.

Horror through understatement

The horror has stronger impact because of the muted, understated language.

Psychological focus

It serves more as a character study and critique of human nature than a chiller or thriller.

Everyday setting

The ordinary contemporary small town backdrop heightens the horror when contrasted with the ritual murder.

Detached tone

Jackson maintains emotional distance and never overtly condemns the ritual, leaving the reader unsettled.

Open-ended ambiguity

The unresolved ending invites debate aboutmob mentality and meaning behind traditions.

What critical conversations has the story inspired since its publication?

The Lottery has prompted decades of analysis from various critical lenses, including:

Mob mentality and situational ethics

Psychologists and philosophers apply theories like groupthink, diffusion of responsibility, and situational ethics to explore how “normal” people act brutally when norms are distorted.

Conformity and tradition

Sociologists relate the story to research on conformity and tradition’s influence, especially in isolated communities.

Feminist interpretations

Feminist critiques explore gender roles, noting only male leaders organize the lottery while women blindly perpetuate it.

Mythological and anthropological analyses

Some situate the lottery in older myths of human sacrifice and enduring primal practices that surface despite modern progress.

Political symbolism

Many scholars view the lottery as an allegory for the dangers of authoritarian systems, McCarthyism, or general popular acquiescence to violence.

Questions over meaning

Debates continue over Jackson’s “true” intentions and whether the story has a unifying purpose or moral message.

How has reception of The Lottery changed over time?

Initial response to The Lottery was very negative, shifted to widespread popularity, then refocused on scholarly analysis:

Negative early feedback

Many found the story offensive or too shocking when it was first published. The New Yorker received angry letters.

Cultural sensation

It soon gained mass popularity and buzz as a disruptive work reflecting postwar anxieties. Jackson became famous.

Scholarly interest

As hype faded, scholars began serious analysis from sociological, psychological, political, and philosophical angles.

Canon of American literature

Today it is studied as a thought-provoking classic that reveals hard truths about human nature and conformity.

Appreciation of Jackson’s craft

Critics now admire the chilling effect created by Jackson’s detached voice, ambiguity, and vivid imagery.


The Lottery continues to fascinate readers. Its disturbing portrait of groupthink, scapegoating, and blind adherence to tradition raises profound questions about human nature. Scholarly analysis validates its status as a significant examination of the individual versus the collective and the fragility of civilized norms. Jackson’s understated style lures readers into complicity before unveiling the chilling horror lying beneath the surface of an ordinary town and ritual. The story retains relevance as a warning against passive acceptance of senseless violence and authoritarian ideas.