My name is Mrs. P.
Welcome to my class!
In today’s video, I will be reading a summary
of one the most famous short stories in American
It’s called “The Lottery”, and it was
written by a woman named Shirley Jackson.
It is important to have some historical context
to understand this story and the negative
reaction that it generated when it appeared
in the June 26, 1948 issue of The New Yorker.
The setting for the story, a gathering in
a small rural village, wasn’t a fictional
construct in America in the summer of 1948.
The setting was emblematic of “small town
America” and many people identified directly
with the setting and the gathering depicted.
It was customary at that time for rural community
leaders to organize summertime gatherings
to draw people together in town centers to
socialize and to frequent and support some
of the town’s business establishments.
It was thought to be good for the businesses
and good for the community.
These gatherings were usually organized by
the city council and featured lotteries with
modest cash-prizes to help lure people into
their vehicles for the long drive to town.
So the scene was instantly recognizable to
the readers — especially rural readers — when
the story was published, and they did not
like the way that this particular story developed
Many interpreted the story as an attack on
the values of rural communities and “small
As a result, the story caused an unanticipated
avalanche of anger and criticism.
If you want the transcript for this story,
then follow a link that is in the description
below the video.
And if this is your first time watching any
of my stories,
make sure to watch my video called “How
to Use Stories to Learn English”.
Let’s get started with the summary of the
and I will conclude with some additional notes
at the end.
By Shirley Jackson.
On a warm summer day, villagers gather in
a town square to participate in a lottery.
The village is small with about 300 residents,
and they are in an excited but anxious mood.
We learn that this is an annual event and
that some surrounding towns are thinking about
abandoning the lottery.
Mrs. Tess Hutchinson makes an undramatic entrance
and chats briefly with Mrs. Delacroix, her
The night before, Mr. Summers, a town leader
who officiates the lottery, had made paper
slips listing all the families with the help
of Mr. Graves.
The slips were stored overnight in a black
box at the coal company.
In past years, the ballot box has been stored
at a number of other locations around the
The villagers start to gather at 10 a.m. so
that they can finish in time for lunch.
Children busy themselves collecting stones.
This is one of those odd details that will
later emerge loaded with meaning.
This activity continues until the proceedings
get underway and they are called together
by their parents.
Mr. Summers works down the list of families,
summoning the head man of each household.
A male sixteen years or older comes forward
and draws a slip of paper.
When every family has a slip of paper, Mr.
Summers has everyone look at the slip, and
we discover that Bill Hutchinson has drawn
the one slip with a black spot.
It’s his family that has been chosen.
Mrs. Hutchinson begins to protest.
With tension mounting, it becomes clear that
“winning” this lottery isn’t going to be what
we expected, and that the “winner” isn’t going
to walk away with a pile of cash.
Once a family is chosen, the second round
In this round, each family member, no matter
how old or young, must draw a slip of paper.
It is Tess Hutchinson who draws the slip with
the black circle.
While Mrs. Hutchinson protests the unfairness
of the situation, each of the villagers picks
up a stone.
“And someone gave little Davy Hutchinson a
They all close in on her.
The story ends with Mrs. Hutchinson being
stoned to death while protesting, “It isn’t
fair, it isn’t right.”
The story concludes with six of the most famous
closing words in short story history, “And
then they were upon her.”
When the story was released it caused a very
strong negative reaction and backlash that
manifested itself in subscription cancellations
for The New Yorker and large amounts of what
could be described as “hate mail” for both
the magazine and the author.
Shirley Jackson and the editors at The New
Yorker were very surprised by the reaction.
Even Jackson’s mother was critical of the
Here is an excerpt from Jackson herself:
‘It had simply never occurred to me that these
millions and millions of people might be so
far from being uplifted that they would sit
down and write me letters I was downright
scared to open; of the three-hundred-odd letters
that I received that summer I can count only
thirteen that spoke kindly to me, and they
were mostly from friends.
Even my mother scolded me: “Dad and I did
not care at all for your story in The New
Yorker,” she wrote sternly; “it does seem,
dear, that this gloomy kind of story is what
all you young people think about these days.
Why don’t you write something to cheer people
One literary critic described the story as
“a chilling tale of conformity gone mad.”
Yes, that’s a nice sound-bite to release in
a classroom discussion, a book club gathering
or a short story seminar but I honestly doubt
that the letters received by Jackson in 1948
cursed her for writing a tale of ‘conformity
I do suspect that some people picked up and
reacted strongly to the idea that Jackson
might be suggesting that underneath the idyllic
image of rural communities peopled by wholesome
citizens, that there might be a sinister force
waiting to be unleashed.
The people in those communities certainly
didn’t see themselves that way.
I suspect that some folks made simpler inferences
about the story that they still found offensive;
that the stones represented harmful gossip
and insults, that these gatherings were a
place where unfounded rumors could be born
by chance and inflict real damage on those
targeted; as gathering by gathering, a new
“target” might become subject to slander earned
Jackson kept her intended meaning to herself,
believing that it would emerge more clearly
with the passage of time.
But considering that she was genuinely surprised
by the reaction, it seems logical to conclude
that she intended to make a commentary on
general human nature rather than a specific
criticism of rural American communities in
the mid-20th century.
Personally, I think the questions of permission
and participation make for a great discussion
or essay about this particular short story.
As small as the gathering is, it is an official
event and an act of governance.
The American writer and intellectual Henry
David Thoreau suggested that you have a moral
responsibility for your government; that when
the government does something wrong — say,
handing out “free” small-pox infected blankets
to Native American Indian tribes — that it’s
not right to simply blame the government,
because by extension that government belongs
to you and acts on your behalf.
So the blame belongs to you as well.
That is part of the foundation for many of
the ideas he advocates in his essay On Civil
In The Lottery, I see questions regarding
the use of force: would you voluntarily participate
in an annual lottery like this?
Yet the people come every year.
I also see questions about permission and
Are people willing to tolerate the possibility
of bad things happening in their community
as long as the odds of it happening to them
are low and the cost of speaking out and protesting
against it might be high?
What are we willing to trade-off or compromise
to be part of a community?
How do these questions relate to modern American
culture and politics where some people — an
increasing number — believe that some individual
liberty should be sacrificed for the good
of the community while others believe that
individual liberty and the freedom to make
personal choices is the highest consideration.
That can be a difficult question for some,
and they wish to answer it with a compromise:
“Of course *some* individual liberty must
This story may be useful for removing the
middle ground and raising guiding principles
to the surface for consideration.
For those of you that have stumbled on my
video while looking for the secret to winning
the lottery, I have a few thoughts . . .
First, good luck to you.
I hope you win.
Second, there is no magic formula, and the
odds of winning are extremely low.
So balance your participation modestly, never
spend more than you can afford.
Enjoy dreaming about what you will do if you
Lastly, keep in mind, that no matter how often
you play and lose, your worst loss is better
than Tess Hutchinson’s win!
So, there you go!
Thank you for watching my story!
Please leave a comment down below to let me
know how you are using my stories to learn
If you would like to know a little bit more
about who I am and what I do
or if you just want to see some of the materials
that I offer,
or to take private lessons with me
you can go to my website at: mrspesltutor.com
Or, you can click on this link!
Subscribe to my YouTube channel over here.
Click down here to see the playlist with all
of the stories at this level.
And, click over here to see my newest video.
Have a wonderful day!
I will see you next time.