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What is The Lottery Ticket short story about?

The Lottery Ticket is a short story written by Shirley Jackson that was first published in The New Yorker in 1948. The story takes place in a small unnamed village and explores themes of tradition, ritual, conformity, and the danger of blindly following conventions without reflection or analysis.

What is the plot summary of The Lottery Ticket?

The story is set in a small rural village of about 300 residents. On June 27th each year, the villagers gather in the town square for the annual lottery. The lottery is conducted in order to select one villager who will be stoned to death by the rest of the villagers as part of an ancient annual ritual believed to ensure a good harvest.

The story begins on the morning of June 27th as the villagers start to gather. The children arrive first and begin collecting stones. The adult villagers arrive next, joking and chatting casually as if nothing is out of the ordinary. They talk about everyday matters like taxes, tractors, and rain. The lottery is treated as a yearly routine event.

Once all the villagers have assembled, the heads of households draw slips of paper from an old black lottery box. Bill Hutchinson ends up with the slip of paper containing a black spot, meaning his family has been selected. His wife Tessie protests that the draw was not fair. Nevertheless, each member of Bill’s family, including him, his wife Tessie, and their children draw again to see who in the family will “win” the lottery.

Tessie selects the paper with the black spot, and she protests loudly as the villagers grab stones. The story ends with Tessie being stoned to death by the villagers, including her own family members, while she screams about the unfairness of the lottery.

What are the main themes in The Lottery Ticket?

Some key themes in The Lottery Ticket include:

Danger of Blind Obedience to Tradition

The villagers never question the brutality of the lottery or the ritual stoning. They continue participating just because it is tradition. This demonstrates the danger of blindly following conventions without reflection.

Mob Mentality vs. Individual Reasoning

The speed with which the villagers turn into a murderous mob highlights how individual reasoning can be lost in the crowd mentality. The mob mentality subsumes moral decency.

Randomness of Persecution

The random selection process and the ordinary reasons for the villagers participating highlight how persecution can select its victims arbitrarily. No one knows who will be targeted next or why.


The lottery leads to the scapegoating of an innocent person to distract from problems in the community. Tessie is sacrificed for the perceived benefit of the group.

What is the setting of The Lottery Ticket?

The Lottery Ticket is set in a small rural village of about 300 people in contemporary times of the 20th century. While the location is never specified, the setting is likely a fictional small town in the Northeastern United States.

Key details about the village setting include:

  • Small population – about 300 villagers total
  • Rural, agrarian feel – farming and agriculture are common
  • Ownership of wood lots for fuel
  • One room schoolhouse for the children
  • Town square used for public gatherings and events

The village is described as having a tranquil, pleasant feeling despite the deadly ritual that occurs there annually. The juxtaposition of the peaceful setting with the violent practice highlights the disturbing nature of the lottery.

When was The Lottery Ticket published?

The Lottery Ticket was first published in:

  • The New Yorker – June 26, 1948 issue

It was later reprinted in the following Shirley Jackson collections:

  • The Lottery: Adventures of the Daemon Lover in 1949
  • The Lottery and Other Stories in 1949
  • Prize Stories of 1949: The O. Henry Awards

When it was first published, The Lottery Ticket garnered a strong and mixed response from the public. It was banned in some areas, including South Africa. However, it is now widely studied in schools and has become one of Jackson’s most famous works.

Who are the main characters in The Lottery Ticket?

The main characters in The Lottery Ticket are:

  • Tessie Hutchinson – The unlucky “winner” of the lottery who is stoned to death
  • Bill Hutchinson – Tessie’s husband, head of the Hutchinson household
  • Mr. Summers – The village leader who officiates the lottery and leads the ritual stoning
  • Old Man Warner – The oldest man in town who enthusiastically embraces the lottery tradition
  • The Hutchinson Children – Bill and Tessie’s young sons and daughters who also participate in the stoning

Other minor characters include townspeople like Mrs. Delacroix and the children like Bobby Martin, Harry Jones, and Dickie Delacroix. All of the villagers play a role in the deadly lottery ritual.

How does the lottery work in the short story?

The lottery works as follows:

  1. All villagers gather in the town square on June 27th.
  2. The heads of households draw slips of paper from a black wooden box.
  3. Bill Hutchinson gets the marked slip of paper indicating his family has been chosen.
  4. The Hutchinsons draw individual slips to see who in the family will “win” the lottery.
  5. Tessie Hutchinson ends up with the marked slip and is selected for the sacrificial stoning.

This ritual has been repeated annually for decades or possibly hundreds of years as an ancient tradition in the village. Every year a random villager is selected through the lottery to be stoned to death in order to ensure a bountiful harvest.

How does the story end?

The ending of The Lottery Ticket is shocking as Tessie Hutchinson is stoned to death by the other villagers, including her family members. The villagers show no remorse, happily going about their day after the stoning. Old Man Warner even remarks “Lottery in June, corn be heavy soon.”

The ending demonstrates the extent to which the tradition of the lottery has desensitized the villagers and distorted their morality. Tessie’s protests fall on deaf ears, and her own husband selects the stone that kills her. The callous ritual human sacrifice is treated as a festive yearly event by the villagers.

The ending provokes readers to think about traditions they may follow blindly without regard for their underlying cruelty or harm. Jackson does not provide any resolution about whether the deadly lottery continues after Tessie’s disturbing public execution.

Does the lottery in the story have a real history?

While Shirley Jackson does not attribute the lottery in the story to any real historical practice, some possibilities include:

Ancient Sacrificial Rituals

The story echoes practices in ancient cultures that performed ritualistic human sacrifice for the benefit of the society. For example, ancient Incans and Aztecs practiced human sacrifice rituals.

Traditional Stoning Executions

Public stoning executions were at one time used as punishment in certain societies. While not specifically linked in the story, it calls to mind the practice of public executions.

Crops and Fertility Rites

The lottery is associated in the story with ensuring a good harvest. This connects it to fertility rites and cropping rituals practiced in various cultures historically.

Shirley Jackson’s Village Experience

Elements of the setting may have been shaped by Shirley Jackson’s experiences living in small rural Vermont towns before writing the story.

However, there are no direct historical precedents specifically for such a deadly lottery ritual. The horror arises in part from the invented tradition seeming both foreign yet eerily familiar.

What is the symbolism of the black box in The Lottery Ticket?

The black wooden box used in the lottery drawing is a key symbol in the story. Details and possible symbolic meanings include:

  • The box is very old, weathered, splintered, and falling apart – represents the decaying tradition
  • It is made of wood slats – connects to the rural wood-based economy
  • Origins of the box are uncertain – signifies the entrenched custom has been going on so long, no one remembers or questions its start
  • The black color signifies something foreboding or sinister
  • Chips of wood splinter off when it is moved – represents fragments breaking off the ritual over time, but not destroying it entirely

Overall, the deteriorating yet enduring box symbolizes the paradox of the cruel lottery tradition – how it is decaying but still continues blindly each year.

What is the significance of the stones in the story?

The piles of stones that the villagers collect to use in the stoning at the end also carry symbolic meaning, including:

  • The stones are common, ordinary items – highlights how normal people can commit horrific brutality
  • Women gather the stones in their aprons before the lottery begins – foreshadows their willing participation
  • Villagers grab stones with enthusiasm, even the children – represents how the stoning ritual has become accepted as normal
  • The stones viciously end Tessie’s life at her neighbors’ hands – underscores the danger of mob mentality

Overall, the stones symbolize the willingness of average people to thoughtlessly commit reprehensible acts of violence when sanctioned by tradition or the group. Their banality makes them more terrifying.

What is the significance of the scapegoat in The Lottery Ticket?

The concept of the “scapegoat” who is sacrificed or blamed unfairly for the problems of others is central to the story. Tessie Hutchinson ends up as the scapegoat when she is selected in the lottery and stoned by her fellow villagers. Key points about Tessie as a scapegoat figure include:

  • She is an innocent member of the community who does not deserve her fate
  • Her death is meant to benefit the entire village by ensuring a good harvest
  • She is a distraction from underlying problems or faults within the village
  • Her protests are ignored and she is killed anyway

By making Tessie the scapegoat who is ritually sacrificed, the lottery creates a catharsis for the villagers that prevents change or introspection. Tessie’s horrible fate emphasizes howdangerous scapegoating can be when taken to the extreme.

How does tradition play a role in The Lottery Ticket?

Tradition drives the entire plot of The Lottery Ticket and leads to Tessie’s death. Key points about tradition in the story include:

  • The lottery is described as an “annual tradition” that has been going on for a very long time
  • No one in the village remembers when or how the lottery started
  • Even Old Man Warner who is 77 just knows the lottery has always taken place
  • The villagers resist change and cling to the lottery ritual out of habit and belief in tradition
  • They are willing to commit murder simply because “it has always been this way”

The story warns about conforming and adhering to damaging traditions. Customs should have purpose – when they lose meaning, yet continue out of habit, moral decay results.


In The Lottery Ticket, Shirley Jackson shocks readers with a twisted tale that explores the danger of blind obedience to harmful traditions. Through disturbing ritual human sacrifice, the story provokes examination of the traditions we follow and their true purpose and meaning, forcing us to consider if we ever commit cruelties out of mere habit. The scapegoating also warns about the innate human willingness to victim-blame rather than accept responsibility. Jackson’s story lingers as a stark reminder that progress requires constant reassessment of conventions and the ethics underlying traditions, rather than sticking to customs merely because “we have always done things that way.” The lottery ticket selected may have a sinister rather than lucky meaning after all.