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The Lottery

Shirley Jackson

Analysis of Major Characters

Character List

Themes, Motifs, and Symbols

Tessie Hutchinson

When Tessie Hutchinson arrives late to the lottery, admitting that she forgot what day it was, she immediately stands out from the other villagers as someone different and perhaps even threatening. Whereas the other women arrive at the square calmly, chatting with one another and then standing placidly by their husbands, Tessie arrives flustered and out of breath. The crowd must part for her to reach her family, and she and her husband endure good-natured teasing as she makes her way to them. On a day when the villagers’ single focus is the lottery, this breach of propriety seems inappropriate, even unforgivable; everyone comes to the lottery, and everyone comes on time. The only person absent is a man whose leg is broken. Although Tessie quickly settles into the crowd and joins the lottery like everyone else, Jackson has set her apart as a kind of free spirit who was able to forget about the lottery entirely as she performed her chores.

Perhaps because she is a free spirit, Tessie is the only villager to protest against the lottery. When the Hutchinson family draws the marked paper, she exclaims, “It wasn’t fair!” This refrain continues as she is selected and subsequently stoned to death, but instead of listening to her, the villagers ignore her. Even Bill tells her to be quiet. We don’t know whether Tessie would have protested the fairness of the lottery if her family had not been selected, but this is a moot point. Whatever her motivation is for speaking out, she is effectively silenced.

Old Man Warner

Old Man Warner, the oldest man in town, has participated in seventy-seven lotteries and is a staunch advocate for keeping things exactly the way they are. He dismisses the towns and young people who have stopped having lotteries as “crazy fools,” and he is threatened by the idea of change. He believes, illogically, that the people who want to stop holding lotteries will soon want to live in caves, as though only the lottery keeps society stable. He also holds fast to what seems to be an old wives’ tale—“Lottery in June, corn be heavy soon”—and fears that if the lottery stops, the villagers will be forced to eat “chickweed and acorns.” Again, this idea suggests that stopping the lottery will lead to a return to a much earlier era, when people hunted and gathered for their food. These illogical, irrational fears reveal that Old Man Warner harbors a strong belief in superstition. He easily accepts the way things are because this is how they’ve always been, and he believes any change to the status quo will lead to disaster. This way of thinking shows how dangerous it is to follow tradition blindly, never questioning beliefs that are passed down from one generation to the next.

Mr. Summers

Despite his breezy, light-hearted name, Mr. Summers wields a frightening amount of power in the village, power that seems to have been assigned to him arbitrarily. A married, childless business owner, Mr. Summers is “jovial” and pitied by the townspeople for having a nagging wife. No one seems to question his leadership of the lottery, and it seems to have never been challenged. Perhaps he took on the role himself, or perhaps someone offered it to him. Whatever the case, he now has complete control. Mr. Summers not only draws the names on the day of the lottery, but he also makes up the slips of paper that go into the black box. It’s up to him to make the black circle that ultimately condemns someone to death. Jackson never explains why the villagers put such pure faith in Mr. Summers, and the assumption that he will continue to conduct the lottery is just one more inexplicable but universally accepted part of the ritual.

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