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The Lottery

Shirley Jackson

Important Quotations Explained

Foreshadowing and Suspense

How to Cite This SparkNote

1. Mr. Summers spoke frequently to the villagers about making a new box, but no one liked to upset even as much tradition as was represented by the black box.

This quotation, from the fifth paragraph of the story, reveals how firmly entrenched the villagers are in the lottery’s tradition and how threatening they find the idea of change. The villagers have no good reason for wanting to keep the black box aside from a vague story about the box’s origins, and the box itself is falling apart. Beyond shabby, it barely resembles a box now, but the villagers, who seem to take such pride in the ritual of the lottery, do not seem to care about the box’s appearance. They just want the box to stay the same. Their strident belief that the box must not change suggests that they fear change itself, as though one change might lead to other changes. Already, some towns have stopped holding lotteries, but these villagers do not seem to be headed in that direction. Instead, they hold firm to the parts of the tradition that remain, afraid to alter even this seemingly insignificant part of it for fear of starting down a slippery slope.

2. Although Mr. Summers and everyone else in the village knew the answer perfectly well, it was the business of the official of the lottery to ask such questions formally.

This quotation appears about halfway through the story, just before the drawing of names begins. Mr. Summers has asked Mrs. Dunbar whether her son, Horace, will be drawing for the family in Mr. Dunbar’s absence, even though everyone knows Horace is still too young. There is no purpose to the question, other than that the question is part of the tradition, and so Mr. Summers adheres to the rule despite the fact that it seems absurd. Even though other parts of the ritual have changed or been discarded over the years, this rule holds firm for absolutely no logical reason. Large things, such as songs and salutes, have slipped away, and wood chips have been replaced with slips of paper. Yet this silly, pointless questioning continues. The villagers seem strident in their adherence to the tradition. Old Man Warner, in particular, is adamant that tradition must be upheld and the lottery must continue. But the reality is that there is no consistency among what rules are followed and which are discarded. This lack of logic makes the villagers’ blind observance of the ritual even more problematic because the tradition they claim to be upholding is actually flimsy and haphazard.

3. Although the villagers had forgotten the ritual and lost the original black box, they still remembered to use stones.

This quotation, which appears near the end of the story, distills the lottery down to its essence: murder. The villagers may talk of tradition, ritual, and history, but the truth—as this quotation makes clear—is that the traditional parts of it have long been discarded. The original ritual and box may indeed have borne along a tradition, violent and bizarre as it may be, but now, without the original trappings, songs, and procedures, all that remains is the violence. The haphazard ritual, the bits and pieces that have been slapped together into some semblance of the original, have led to this essential moment of killing. The villagers are all too eager to embrace what remains, eagerly picking up the stones and carrying on the “tradition” for another year.

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