Summary of The Lottery by Shirley Jackson (A Strange Summer Festival)

This post is a summary of The Lottery by Shirley Jackson, published in the New Yorker on June 26, 1948. The story includes some common things you can observe in a typical community in your area, but the story unfolded strangely. It’s like reading about a strange summer festival.

I’m in awe of how older generations of storytellers told their stories, including Mary Jackson. After I read The Lottery, I was in a state of awe

This story can be called ‘the case of the incident that involved picking who to stone to death.’ Yeah, as wild as that sounds, it’s precisely what the story is about, and by the end, it makes you wonder where the inspiration came from.

If you are new here, I usually pick a short story or a novel and review it, giving brief but insightful lessons or discussions to some interesting tale. You can find more posts here

Back to the topic, what am I writing about? 

The Lottery Summary and Analysis

The Lottery is a short story. It was set in a small American community. This story narrates a kind of event in the town, first by describing the season. It starts with, “The morning of June 27th was clear and sunny, with the fresh warmth of a full-summer day; the flowers were blossoming profusely and the grass was richly green.” 

Then, it tells us about the families and a brief introduction to the directors of the event. Old man Warner is the one to lead the proceeding. To our dismay, the proceeding is about choosing someone who will be — you can never guess this —- stoned to death. The purpose of this proceedings is to ‘bring bountiful harvest’ or something like that. 

Analysis Of The Lottery by Shirley Jackson

The thing about this story is how it makes it casual (which is common in many literary fiction stories, especially those by older generations.) When I started reading, it was like reading about people going to church to have holy communion. Then, you realize there is horror. When the story begins, you read that ‘the young ones have gathered a pile of stones.’ (“Bobby Martin had already stuffed his pockets full of stones, and the other boys soon followed his example, selecting the smoothest and roundest stones.” No, they are not going to build a house with those. 

Main characters

  • Tessie Hutchinson — Oh, Tessie 
  • Bobby Martin — one of the kids
  • Old man Warner — the oldest, the last of his kind, the man who knows the history of the community 
  • Mr. Summer – the one who gets to keep the box and who calls the family names before they come forward, the coordinator of this event

Instead of doing the typical review, let’s look at some important lessons. 

Source: Mental Floss

Lessons from The Lottery by Shirley Jackson 

These are the few lessons I could come up with. (I’ll update it when I think of more.)

#1. For A Community to Exist, some People Uphold the culture of such a community and pass it on to the next generations. 

This person (or people) is usually older, someone to tell the history or tell the kids, ‘This is how things are done.’ In this story, we have Old Man Walner as the symbol of age and the connection between this event’s past and present. 

#2. A community has one acceptable outcast. 

This person belongs to the community, does everything, and (probably) participates in everything everyone does. However, when push comes to shove, this is the person the others would agree to sacrifice. Maybe it’s because of their personality or something else (like their parent’s history, rumors about them, outstanding beauty, race, or anything). In every community, this person exists. In this story, the person is Tessie Hutchinson. 

Here is a line about Mrs. Tessie Hutchinson’s arrival: 

‘The people separated good-humoredly to let her through; two or three people said, in voices just loud enough to be heard across the crowd, “Here comes your Mrs., Hutchinson,” and “Bill, she made it after all.”’

The Lottery, Shirley Jackson

You can hear it in the jokes passed around. She is famous and not for something good. 

She is a ‘partial outcast’ and doesn’t know it yet.

Read my book.

#3. People will play along with bad programs if they have a strong hope they will not become a victim.

When Mrs. Hutchinson first arrived, she was happy. She didn’t care much about this event. As important as it was to everyone, she had forgotten. 

“Just as Mr. Summers finally left off talking and turned to the assembled villagers, Mrs. Hutchinson came hurriedly along the path to the square, her sweater thrown over her shoulders, and slid into place in the back of the crowd. “Clean forgot what day it was,” she said to Mrs. Delacroix, who stood next to her, and they both laughed softly.”

And here she is when the paper with a black dot falls into her hand when she realizes she’s the one to be stoned. 

‘Tessie Hutchinson was in the center of a cleared space by now, and she held her hands out desperately as the villagers moved in on her. “It isn’t fair,” she said. A stone hit her on the side of the head. Old Man Warner was saying, “Come on, come on, everyone.” Steve Adams was in the front of the crowd of villagers, with Mrs. Graves beside him. “It isn’t fair, it isn’t right,” Mrs. Hutchinson screamed, and then they were upon her.’ 

So sad, Tessie.

That’s lessons from The Lottery. 

From the reviews I read, I learned there was a wild reaction after the story was published. Some people canceled their subscriptions to the New Yorker (A very fair decision because what inspired such a story? The Hunger Games?) I was not expecting that this lottery wasn’t anything about a typical Lottery. The winner doesn’t get richer but gets stoned to death. 

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