45 pages 1 hour read

The Lottery

Fiction | Short Story | Adult | Published in 1948

A modern alternative to SparkNotes and CliffsNotes, SuperSummary offers high-quality Study Guides with detailed chapter summaries and analysis of major themes, characters, and more. For select classroom titles, we also provide Teaching Guides with discussion and quiz questions to prompt student engagement.

Summary and Study Guide

Summary: “The Lottery”

The story takes place on June 27. The weather is warm and pleasant. Townsfolk, 300 strong, begin to fill the main square. Boys collect smooth, round stones into piles, which they guard; girls stand to one side, talking. Men gather and discuss their farms; the women appear soon after, chatting quietly among themselves.

Mr. Summers officiates; he’s the master of ceremonies at most public events in town. Today, his assistant is Mr. Graves, the postmaster, who knows all the residents’ names. Mr. Summers brings forth a black wooden box that contains a pile of folded slips of paper, all of them blank except one, which contains a large black circle. The box has been used in the lottery since before the oldest resident was born; it’s only the second box ever used by the village. It rests on a three-legged stool provided by Mr. Graves.

Mr. Martin and his son Baxter hold the box steady while Mr. Summers reaches in and stirs up the papers. The town once used wood chips instead of paper, but the population grew, and the chips couldn’t fit into the box. The rest of the year, the box sits forgotten on a shelf or under a desk.

Lists of families and heads of household are drawn up; a few family members agree to pull slips from the box for absent fathers. Mr. Summers is sworn in. A few other customs follow, including a chant and a salute.

Tessie Hutchinson arrives late, having forgotten about the event. She makes a joke about having to wash the dishes, and the crowd chuckles.

The lottery begins. Mr. Summers calls out, in alphabetical order, the names of each head of household. Each man pulls a folded piece of paper from the box.

In the crowd, Mr. and Mrs. Adams remark to Old Man Warner that some nearby towns have decided to abandon the lottery. Warner replies testily that this is a bad idea: “There’s always been a lottery” (297). He reminds them that the lottery helps to guarantee a good harvest.

When all heads of household have retrieved folded papers, they open them together and look. Bill Hutchinson holds the paper with the black mark. He, his wife, and their three children will participate in the final section of the lottery. Tessie complains that Mr. Summers didn’t give her husband enough time to choose properly. Mrs. Delacroix says, “Be a good sport, Tessie,” and Bill Hutchinson tells his wife to “Shut up” (298-99).

Five slips of paper, one of them marked, are folded and placed in the box. The Hutchinsons’ three children draw first, followed by Tessie and Bill. They all open their papers: The black-marked slip is in Tessie’s hand.

Tessie is placed in the center of an empty area. People fetch stones from the piles assembled by the boys. Tessie’s toddler son, Davy, receives a few small stones to throw. As Tessie cries out that the entire ritual “isn’t fair,” the stones begin to strike her. 

Related Titles

By Shirley Jackson