The Lottery

by: Shirley Jackson

Rituals

Quotes Rituals
There was a story that the present box had been made with some pieces of the box that had preceded it, the one that had been constructed when the first people settled down to make a village here.

As Mr. Summers begins putting the slips of paper into the box, the narrator notes that the village has not used the original box in a very long time. Mr. Summers repeatedly suggested building a new box, but because the current box may have remnants of the original one, the villagers do not want to part with the object. Although the villagers can’t be sure that the current box contains elements of the original box, the idea of the tradition resonates so strongly, they refuse to part with it.

“Well, now,” Mr. Summers said soberly, “guess we better get started, get this over with, so’s we can go back to work.”

Mr. Summers starts the proceedings once the villagers have gathered, right before he begins calling the names of the families. While he speaks calmly, he clearly presents a casual attitude toward the process, indicating that everyone will go on with their lives the same as before once the lottery concludes. The lottery exists as such a mundane ritual in their world that they can easily go back to living their lives after stoning someone to death.

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.

When Mrs. Dunbar says she can draw in place of her husband who has a broken leg, Mr. Summers asks if she has a grown son who can do it instead. The fact that he knows she does not have a son old enough to take her husband’s place, but feels the need to ask the question anyway, shows his and other villagers’ dedication to the formalities of the lottery.

The people had done it so many times that they only half listened to the directions; most of them were quiet, wetting their lips, not looking around.

The narrator describes the villagers’ behavior as Mr. Summers reads aloud the rules of the lottery. As he speaks, they barely pay attention to him, another sign of how ancient and accepted the lottery is in their community. Although they all know they will either be killed or kill someone else among them in the end, the villagers view the lottery as a mundane ritual to deal with every year and they know the rules by heart.

“Seems like there’s no time at all between lotteries any more,” Mrs. Delacroix said to Mrs. Graves in the back row. “Seems like we got through with the last one only last week.”

Two women exchange pleasantries while Mr. Summers reads the villagers’ names aloud. They talk about the lottery as if discussing a holiday or a weekday chore. Before readers know what exactly happens at the lottery, the relaxed attitude everyone presents toward the lottery fails to indicate the evil and horrid reality of the ritual.