The morning of June 27th was clear and sunny, with the
fresh warmth of a full-summer day; the flowers were blossoming profusely and the
grass was richly green. The people of the village began to gather in the square,
between the post office and the bank, around ten o'clock; in some towns there
were so many people that the lottery took two days and had to be started on June
2th. but in this village, where there were only about three hundred people, the
whole lottery took less than two hours, so it could begin at ten o'clock in the
morning and still be through in time to allow the villagers to get home for noon
The children assembled first, of course. School was
recently over for the summer, and the feeling of liberty sat uneasily on most of
them; they tended to gather together quietly for a while before they broke into
boisterous play. and their talk was still of the classroom and the teacher, of
books and reprimands. Bobby Martin had already stuffed his pockets full of
stones, and the other boys soon followed his example, selecting the smoothest
and roundest stones; Bobby and Harry Jones and Dickie Delacroix-- the villagers
pronounced this name "Dellacroy"--eventually made a great pile of
stones in one corner of the square and guarded it against the raids of the other
boys. The girls stood aside, talking among themselves, looking over their
shoulders at the boys. and the very small children rolled in the dust or clung
to the hands of their older brothers or sisters.
Soon the men began to gather. surveying their own children,
speaking of planting and rain, tractors and taxes. They stood together, away
from the pile of stones in the corner, and their jokes were quiet and they
smiled rather than laughed. The women, wearing faded house dresses and sweaters,
came shortly after their menfolk. They greeted one another and exchanged bits of
gossip as they went to join their husbands. Soon the women, standing by their
husbands, began to call to their children, and the children came reluctantly,
having to be called four or five times. Bobby Martin ducked under his mother's
grasping hand and ran, laughing, back to the pile of stones. His father spoke up
sharply, and Bobby came quickly and took his place between his father and his
The lottery was conducted--as were the square dances, the
teen club, the Halloween program--by Mr. Summers. who had time and energy to
devote to civic activities. He was a round-faced, jovial man and he ran the coal
business, and people were sorry for him. because he had no children and his wife
was a scold. When he arrived in the square, carrying the black wooden box, there
was a murmur of conversation among the villagers, and he waved and called.
"Little late today, folks." The postmaster, Mr. Graves, followed him,
carrying a three- legged stool, and the stool was put in the center of the
square and Mr. Summers set the black box down on it. The villagers kept their
distance, leaving a space between themselves and the stool. and when Mr. Summers
said, "Some of you fellows want to give me a hand?" there was a
hesitation before two men. Mr. Martin and his oldest son, Baxter. came forward
to hold the box steady on the stool while Mr. Summers stirred up the papers
The original paraphernalia for the lottery had been lost
long ago, and the black box now resting on the stool had been put into use even
before Old Man Warner, the oldest man in town, was born. 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. 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. Every year, after the lottery, Mr. Summers began talking again
about a new box, but every year the subject was allowed to fade off without
anything's being done. The black box grew shabbier each year: by now it was no
longer completely black but splintered badly along one side to show the original
wood color, and in some places faded or stained.
Mr. Martin and his oldest son, Baxter, held the black box
securely on the stool until Mr. Summers had stirred the papers thoroughly with
his hand. Because so much of the ritual had been forgotten or discarded, Mr.
Summers had been successful in having slips of paper substituted for the chips
of wood that had been used for generations. Chips of wood, Mr. Summers had
argued. had been all very well when the village was tiny, but now that the
population was more than three hundred and likely to keep on growing, it was
necessary to use something that would fit more easily into he black box. The
night before the lottery, Mr. Summers and Mr. Graves made up the slips of paper
and put them in the box, and it was then taken to the safe of Mr. Summers' coal
company and locked up until Mr. Summers was ready to take it to the square next
morning. The rest of the year, the box was put way, sometimes one place,
sometimes another; it had spent one year in Mr. Graves's barn and another year
underfoot in the post office. and sometimes it was set on a shelf in the Martin
grocery and left there.
There was a great deal of fussing to be done before Mr.
Summers declared the lottery open. There were the lists to make up--of heads of
families. heads of households in each family. members of each household in each
family. There was the proper swearing-in of Mr. Summers by the postmaster, as
the official of the lottery; at one time, some people remembered, there had been
a recital of some sort, performed by the official of the lottery, a perfunctory.
tuneless chant that had been rattled off duly each year; some people believed
that the official of the lottery used to stand just so when he said or sang it,
others believed that he was supposed to walk among the people, but years and
years ago this p3rt of the ritual had been allowed to lapse. There had been,
also, a ritual salute, which the official of the lottery had had to use in
addressing each person who came up to draw from the box, but this also had
changed with time, until now it was felt necessary only for the official to
speak to each person approaching. Mr. Summers was very good at all this; in his
clean white shirt and blue jeans. with one hand resting carelessly on the black
box. he seemed very proper and important as he talked interminably to Mr. Graves
and the Martins.
Just as Mr. Summers finally left off talking and turned to
the assembled villagers, Mrs. Hutchinson came hurriedly along the path to the
square, her sweater thrown over her shoulders, and slid into place in the back
of the crowd. "Clean forgot what day it was," she said to Mrs.
Delacroix, who stood next to her, and they both laughed softly. "Thought my
old man was out back stacking wood," Mrs. Hutchinson went on. "and
then I looked out the window and the kids was gone, and then I remembered it was
the twenty-seventh and came a-running." She dried her hands on her apron,
and Mrs. Delacroix said, "You're in time, though. They're still talking
away up there."
Mrs. Hutchinson craned her neck to see through the crowd
and found her husband and children standing near the front. She tapped Mrs.
Delacroix on the arm as a farewell and began to make her way through the crowd.
The people separated good-humoredly to let her through: two or three people
said. in voices just loud enough to be heard across the crowd, "Here comes
your, Missus, Hutchinson," and "Bill, she made it after all."
Mrs. Hutchinson reached her husband, and Mr. Summers, who had been waiting, said
cheerfully. "Thought we were going to have to get on without you, Tessie."
Mrs. Hutchinson said. grinning, "Wouldn't have me leave m'dishes in the
sink, now, would you. Joe?," and soft laughter ran through the crowd as the
people stirred back into position after Mrs. Hutchinson's arrival.
"Well, now." Mr. Summers said soberly,
"guess we better get started, get this over with, so's we can go back to
work. Anybody ain't here?"
"Dunbar." several people said. "Dunbar.
Mr. Summers consulted his list. "Clyde Dunbar."
he said. "That's right. He's broke his leg, hasn't he? Who's drawing for
"Me. I guess," a woman said. and Mr. Summers
turned to look at her. "Wife draws for her husband." Mr. Summers said.
"Don't you have a grown boy to do it for you, Janey?" 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. Mr.
Summers waited with an expression of polite interest while Mrs. Dunbar answered.
"Horace's not but sixteen vet." Mrs. Dunbar said
regretfully. "Guess I gotta fill in for the old man this year."
"Right." Sr. Summers said. He made a note on the
list he was holding. Then he asked, "Watson boy drawing this year?"
A tall boy in the crowd raised his hand. "Here,"
he said. "I m drawing for my mother and me." He blinked his eyes
nervously and ducked his head as several voices in the crowd said thin#s like
"Good fellow, lack." and "Glad to see your mother's got a man to
"Well," Mr. Summers said, "guess that's
everyone. Old Man Warner make it?"
"Here," a voice said. and Mr. Summers nodded.
A sudden hush fell on the crowd as Mr. Summers cleared his
throat and looked at the list. "All ready?" he called. "Now, I'll
read the names--heads of families first--and the men come up and take a paper
out of the box. Keep the paper folded in your hand without looking at it until
everyone has had a turn. Everything clear?"
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. Then Mr. Summers raised one hand high and said,
"Adams." A man disengaged himself from the crowd and came forward.
"Hi. Steve." Mr. Summers said. and Mr. Adams said. "Hi.
Joe." They grinned at one another humorlessly and nervously. Then Mr. Adams
reached into the black box and took out a folded paper. He held it firmly by one
corner as he turned and went hastily back to his place in the crowd. where he
stood a little apart from his family. not looking down at his hand.
"Allen." Mr. Summers said. "Anderson....
"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
"Time sure goes fast.-- Mrs. Graves said.
"There goes my old man." Mrs. Delacroix said. She
held her breath while her husband went forward.
"Dunbar," Mr. Summers said, and Mrs. Dunbar went
steadily to the box while one of the women said. "Go on. Janey," and
another said, "There she goes."
"We're next." Mrs. Graves said. She watched while
Mr. Graves came around from the side of the box, greeted Mr. Summers gravely and
selected a slip of paper from the box. By now, all through the crowd there were
men holding the small folded papers in their large hand. turning them over and
over nervously Mrs. Dunbar and her two sons stood together, Mrs. Dunbar holding
the slip of paper.
"Get up there, Bill," Mrs. Hutchinson said. and
the people near her laughed.
"They do say," Mr. Adams said to Old Man Warner,
who stood next to him, "that over in the north village they're talking of
giving up the lottery."
Old Man Warner snorted. "Pack of crazy fools," he
said. "Listening to the young folks, nothing's good enough for them. Next
thing you know, they'll be wanting to go back to living in caves, nobody work
any more, live hat way for a while. Used to be a saying about 'Lottery in June,
corn be heavy soon.' First thing you know, we'd all be eating stewed chickweed
and acorns. There's always been a lottery," he added petulantly. "Bad
enough to see young Joe Summers up there joking with everybody."
"Some places have already quit lotteries." Mrs.
"Nothing but trouble in that," Old Man Warner
said stoutly. "Pack of young fools."
"Martin." And Bobby Martin watched his father go
forward. "Overdyke.... Percy."
"I wish they'd hurry," Mrs. Dunbar said to her
older son. "I wish they'd hurry."
"They're almost through," her son said.
"You get ready to run tell Dad," Mrs. Dunbar
Mr. Summers called his own name and then stepped forward
precisely and selected a slip from the box. Then he called, "Warner."
"Seventy-seventh year I been in the lottery," Old
Man Warner said as he went through the crowd. "Seventy-seventh time."
"Watson" The tall boy came awkwardly through the
crowd. Someone said, "Don't be nervous, Jack," and Mr. Summers said,
"Take your time, son."
After that, there was a long pause, a breathless pause,
until Mr. Summers. holding his slip of paper in the air, said, "All right,
fellows." For a minute, no one moved, and then all the slips of paper were
opened. Suddenly, all the women began to speak at once, saving. "Who is
it?," "Who's got it?," "Is it the Dunbars?," "Is
it the Watsons?" Then the voices began to say, "It's Hutchinson. It's
Bill," "Bill Hutchinson's got it."
"Go tell your father," Mrs. Dunbar said to her
People began to look around to see the Hutchinsons. Bill
Hutchinson was standing quiet, staring down at the paper in his hand. Suddenly.
Tessie Hutchinson shouted to Mr. Summers. "You didn't give him time enough
to take any paper he wanted. I saw you. It wasn't fair!"
"Be a good sport, Tessie." Mrs. Delacroix called,
and Mrs. Graves said, "All of us took the same chance."
"Shut up, Tessie," Bill Hutchinson said.
"Well, everyone," Mr. Summers said, "that
was done pretty fast, and now we've got to be hurrying a little more to get done
in time." He consulted his next list. "Bill," he said, "you
draw for the Hutchinson family. You got any other households in the Hutchinsons?"
"There's Don and Eva," Mrs. Hutchinson yelled.
"Make them take their chance!"
"Daughters draw with their husbands' families, Tessie,"
Mr. Summers said gently. "You know that as well as anyone else."
"It wasn't fair," Tessie said.
"I guess not, Joe." Bill Hutchinson said
regretfully. "My daughter draws with her husband's family; that's only
fair. And I've got no other family except the kids."
"Then, as far as drawing for families is concerned,
it's you," Mr. Summers said in explanation, "and as far as drawing for
households is concerned, that's you, too. Right?"
"Right," Bill Hutchinson said.
"How many kids, Bill?" Mr. Summers asked
"Three," Bill Hutchinson said.
"There's Bill, Jr., and Nancy, and little Dave. And
Tessie and me."
"All right, then," Mr. Summers said. "Harry,
you got their tickets back?"
Mr. Graves nodded and held up the slips of paper. "Put
them in the box, then," Mr. Summers directed. "Take Bill's and put it
"I think we ought to start over," Mrs. Hutchinson
said, as quietly as she could. "I tell you it wasn't fair. You didn't give
him time enough to choose. Everybody saw that."
Mr. Graves had selected the five slips and put them in the
box. and he dropped all the papers but those onto the ground. where the breeze
caught them and lifted them off.
"Listen, everybody," Mrs. Hutchinson was saying
to the people around her.
"Ready, Bill?" Mr. Summers asked. and Bill
Hutchinson, with one quick glance around at his wife and children. nodded.
"Remember," Mr. Summers said. "take the
slips and keep them folded until each person has taken one. Harry, you help
little Dave." Mr. Graves took the hand of the little boy, who came
willingly with him up to the box. "Take a paper out of the box, Davy."
Mr. Summers said. Davy put his hand into the box and laughed. "Take just
one paper." Mr. Summers said. "Harry, you hold it for him." Mr.
Graves took the child's hand and removed the folded paper from the tight fist
and held it while little Dave stood next to him and looked up at him
"Nancy next," Mr. Summers said. Nancy was twelve,
and her school friends breathed heavily as she went forward switching her skirt,
and took a slip daintily from the box "Bill, Jr.," Mr. Summers said,
and Billy, his face red and his feet overlarge, near knocked the box over as he
got a paper out. "Tessie," Mr. Summers said. She hesitated for a
minute, looking around defiantly. and then set her lips and went up to the box.
She snatched a paper out and held it behind her.
"Bill," Mr. Summers said, and Bill Hutchinson
reached into the box and felt around, bringing his hand out at last with the
slip of paper in it.
The crowd was quiet. A girl whispered, "I hope it's
not Nancy," and the sound of the whisper reached the edges of the crowd.
"It's not the way it used to be." Old Man Warner
said clearly. "People ain't the way they used to be."
"All right," Mr. Summers said. "Open the
papers. Harry, you open little Dave's."
Mr. Graves opened the slip of paper and there was a general
sigh through the crowd as he held it up and everyone could see that it was
blank. Nancy and Bill. Jr.. opened theirs at the same time. and both beamed and
laughed. turning around to the crowd and holding their slips of paper above
"Tessie," Mr. Summers said. There was a pause,
and then Mr. Summers looked at Bill Hutchinson, and Bill unfolded his paper and
showed it. It was blank.
"It's Tessie," Mr. Summers said, and his voice
was hushed. "Show us her paper. Bill."
Bill Hutchinson went over to his wife and forced the slip
of paper out of her hand. It had a black spot on it, the black spot Mr. Summers
had made the night before with the heavy pencil in the coal company office. Bill
Hutchinson held it up, and there was a stir in the crowd.
"All right, folks." Mr. Summers said. "Let's
Although the villagers had forgotten the ritual and lost
the original black box, they still remembered to use stones. The pile of stones
the boys had made earlier was ready; there were stones on the ground with the
blowing scraps of paper that had come out of the box Delacroix selected a stone
so large she had to pick it up with both hands and turned to Mrs. Dunbar.
"Come on," she said. "Hurry up."
Mr. Dunbar had small stones in both hands, and she said.
gasping for breath. "I can't run at all. You'll have to go ahead and I'll
catch up with you."
The children had stones already. And someone gave little
Davy Hutchinson few pebbles.
Tessie Hutchinson was in the center of a cleared space by
now, and she held her hands out desperately as the villagers moved in on her.
"It isn't fair," she said. A stone hit her on the side of the head.
Old Man Warner was saying, "Come on, come on, everyone." Steve Adams
was in the front of the crowd of villagers, with Mrs. Graves beside him.
"It isn't fair, it isn't right," Mrs. Hutchinson
screamed, and then they were upon her.
By Shirley Jackson 1948. First published in
the New Yorker magazine
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