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The 31 Days of Hallowe'en - The Lottery

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  • brent wodehouse
    T h e L o t t e r y 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
    Message 1 of 1 , Oct 2, 2011
      T h e L o t t e r y

      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 ten
      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 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 oldest brother.
      The lottery was conducted - as were the
      square dances, the teenage 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 to use even
      before Old Man Warner, the oldest man in town, was
      born. Mr. Summer 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
      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 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. Summer's coal company
      and locked up until Mr. Summers was read to take it
      to the square next morning. The rest of the year, the
      box was put away, sometimes one place, sometimes
      another; it had spent one year in Mr. Grave'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 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. Summer 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 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 here 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, 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 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 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 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 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 direcitons; 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 helf 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
      "Allen," Mr. Summers said. "Anderson. . . . Bentham."
      "Seems like there's not 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."
      "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 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 hands, turning them over and over nervously.
      Mrs. Dunbar and her two sons stood together, Mrs.
      Dunbar holding the slip of paper.
      "Harburt. . . . Hutchinson."
      "Get up ther, 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, noboby work
      any more, live *that* 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. Adams said.
      "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 said.
      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, saying, "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 older
      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
      "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 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 in 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. *Every*body saw that."
      Mr. Graves had selected the five slips
      and put them in the box, and he dropped all the paper
      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. Summer 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 wonderingly.
      "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, 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 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
      their heads.
      "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 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 you."
      The children had stones already, and
      someone gave littly Davy Hutchinson a 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
      "It isn't fair, it isn't right," Mrs.
      Hutchinson screamed, and then they were upon her.

      From 'The Lottery' by Shirley Jackson. Copyright © 1948, 1949 by Shirley

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