by Shirley Jackson
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 26th, 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 10 o'clock in the morning and still be through in time to allow the
villagers to get home for noon dinner.
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 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 on to join their husbands, began to call 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 oldest brother.
The lottery was conducted - as were the square dances, the teen-age 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 inside it.
The original paraphernalia for the lottery had been lost long ago, and the
black box now resting on the stool had been put in 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 black 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 been 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
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 slips of
wood that had been used for generations. Chips of wood, Mr. Summers argued,
had been all very well when this village was tiny, but now that the
population was more than three hundred and likely to keep growing, it was
necessary to use something that would fit in more easily into the 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 away,
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 a 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 part 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 of the
window and the kids were 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
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 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, Dunbar.”
Mr. Summers consulted his list. “Clyde Dunbar,” he said. “That’s right. He’s
broke his leg, hasn’t he? Who drawing for him?”
“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 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 yet,” Mrs. Dunbar said regretfully. “Guess I gotta
fill in for the old man this year.”
“Right, Mr. 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
m’mother and me.” He blinked his eyes nervously and ducked his head as
several voices in the crowd said things like “Good fellow, Jack,” and “Glad
to see your mother’s got a man to do it.”
“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 out the names - heads
of the families first - and then 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. . . . Bentham.”
“Seems like there’s no time at all between the 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.”
“Time sure goes fast,” Mrs. Graves said.
“Clark. . . . Delacroix.”
“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 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 hands, turning them over and over nervously.
Mrs. Dunbar and her two sons stood together, Mrs. Dunbar holding the slip of
“Harburt. . . . Hutchinson.”
“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 northern village they’re talking of giving up the
Old man Warner snorted. “Pack of crazy fools,” he said. “Listening to the
young folks, nothin’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
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. Adams said.
“Nothing but trouble in that,” Old Man Warner said stoutly. “Pack of young
“Martin.” And Bobby Martin watched his father go forward. “Overdyke. . . .
“I wish they’d hurry,” Mrs. Dunbar said to her older son. “I wish they’d
“They’re almost through,” her son said.
“You get ready to run tell Dad,” Mrs. Dunbar said.
Mr. Summers called his own name and then stepped forwars 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, saying, “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 older son.
People began to look around to see the Hutchinsons. Bill Hutchinson was
standing quiet, staring down 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 got any other households in the
“There’s Don and Eva,” Mrs. Hutchinson yelled. “Make them take their
“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 formally.
“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 into the box,
then,” Mr. Summers directed. Take Bill’s and put it in.”
“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 other papers but those onto the ground, where the breeze
caught them and lifted them off.
“Listen, everybody,” Mrs. Hutchinson was saying t 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, 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
“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 over-large, nearly 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
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 their
“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
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 finish quickly.”
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.
Mrs. 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.”
Mrs. 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
The children had stones already, and someone gave little Davy Hutchinson a
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.