“The morning of June 27th was clear and sunny…”
The Lottery (1969)
“The Lottery” is a short story by Shirley Jackson, written in the month of its first publication, in the June 26, 1948, issue of The New Yorker. The story describes a fictional small town which observes—as do many other communities, both large and small, throughout contemporary America—an annual ritual known as “the lottery.” It has been described as “one of the most famous short stories in the history of American literature.” The initially negative response to the story surprised both Jackson and The New Yorker. Readers canceled subscriptions and sent hate mail throughout the summer. The Union of South Africa banned the story. Details of contemporary small-town American life are embroidered upon a description of an annual ritual known as “the lottery.” In a small village of about 300 residents, the locals are in an excited yet nervous mood on June 27. Children gather stones as the adult townsfolk assemble for their annual event, which in the local tradition is practiced to ensure a good harvest (Old Man Warner quotes an old proverb: “Lottery in June, corn be heavy soon”), though there are some rumors that nearby communities in the north are talking about giving up the lottery. The lottery preparations start the night before with Mr. Summers and Mr. Graves making the paper slips and the list of all the families. Once the slips are finished, they are put into a black box, which is stored overnight in a safe at the coal company. The story briefly mentions how the ballot box has been stored other years in various places in the town. On the morning of the lottery, the townspeople start close to 10 a.m. in order to have everything done in time for lunch. First, the heads of the households draw slips until every head of the household has a slip (for the first round, the men have to be over sixteen years of age). Bill Hutchinson gets the one slip with a black spot, meaning that his family has been chosen. The second round is for the individual family members to draw, no matter their age. Bill’s wife Tessie gets the marked slip. After the drawing is over and Tessie is picked, the slips are allowed to fly off into the wind. In keeping with tradition, each villager obtains a stone and begins to surround Tessie. The story ends as Tessie is stoned to death while she bemoans the unfairness of the situation.
Shirley Jackson: Novels and Stories (The Lottery…)