The Lottery

by: Shirley Jackson

Important Quotations Explained

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.