The lottery is an arrangement in which one or more prizes are allocated to people who participate in a process that relies solely on chance. Modern state lotteries are based on this principle. The prizes in these arrangements may be money, goods, services, or other property. The prevailing social attitudes toward lotteries vary from society to society. The underlying principle, however, remains unchanged.
On the day of the lottery, Tessie comes late because she has been washing her breakfast dishes. She takes a seat and watches the heads of families draw slips from a black box. They are marked with a black spot, and the head of each family is permitted to draw only once.
As the families wait for their results, there is banter among them. Some villagers gossip that other villages have discontinued the lottery, but Old Man Warner, who is something like the town patriarch, defends it. He quotes a traditional proverb: “Lottery in June, corn be heavy soon.”
In the end, each family finds out its fate and celebrates or mourns accordingly. But even as they do, there is a sense of resignation that the lottery will always have its place in their village.
The story is set in an unnamed small village, and its characterizations of women, men, and children are accurate and nuanced. Its depiction of gender roles is not a direct evocation of real-world society, but it is a reflection of societal attitudes at the time of its publication.