Motifs are recurring structures, contrasts, and literary devices that can help to develop and inform the text’s major themes.


Family bonds are a significant part of the lottery, but the emphasis on family only heightens the killing’s cruelty because family members so easily turn against one another. Family ties form the lottery’s basic structure and execution. In the town square, families stand together in groups, and every family member must be present. Elaborate lists of heads of families, heads of households within those families, and household members are created, and these lists determine which member draws from the box. Family relationships are essential to how the actions of the lottery are carried out, but these relationships mean nothing the moment it’s time to stone the unlucky victim. As soon as it’s clear that Tessie has drawn the marked paper, for example, her husband and children turn on her just as the other villagers do. Although family relationships determine almost everything about the lottery, they do not guarantee loyalty or love once the lottery is over.


The lottery is rife with rules that are arbitrarily followed or disregarded. The intricate rules the villagers follow suggest that the lottery is an efficient, logical ritual and that there is an important purpose behind it, whereas the rules that have lapsed, however, reveal the essential randomness of the lottery’s dark conclusion. Mr. Summers follows an elaborate system of rules for creating the slips of paper and making up the lists of families. When the lottery begins, he lays out a series of specific rules for the villagers, including who should draw slips of paper from the black box and when to open those papers. When someone is unable to draw, the lottery rules determine who should be next in line. At the same time, there are ghosts of rules that have been long forgotten or willfully abandoned altogether, such as those for salutes and songs that accompany Mr. Summer’s induction as the chairman of the lottery. The fact that some rules have remained while others have disappeared underscores the disturbing randomness of the murder at the end of the lottery.

Read about the related theme of the hypocrisy of “civilized” society in Mark Twain’s The Adventures of Huckleberry Finn.