The Lottery By Shirley Jackson Study Guide: Key Themes, Analysis, and Discussion Points

The Lottery By Shirley Jackson Study Guide: Key Themes, Analysis, and Discussion Points

Welcome to our study guide on The Lottery by Shirley Jackson! In this comprehensive article, we will delve into the seven key themes, analyze the plot, discuss the characters, and explore the symbolism and allegory in the work. Whether you’re a lover of literature or simply looking for answers for your study, this guide will provide you with all the necessary tools to navigate through the story.

Before we dive into the plot and analysis, let’s start with a brief summary and some basic facts about Shirley Jackson and her famous short story, “The Lottery.” The story was first published in 1948 and quickly gained popularity for its shocking ending. Set in a small New England town, the lottery is an annual event that has been a tradition for a long time. The townspeople gather together and draw slips of paper from a black box. The person with the marked slip of paper is chosen to be stoned to death as a sacrifice for the town.

One of the key themes of “The Lottery” is the danger of blindly following tradition. Jackson’s powerful writing forces us to question the social norms and rituals we accept without questioning. By exploring the dark depths of human nature, the story challenges our preconceived notions and urges us to think critically about the customs we participate in.

Shirley Jackson’s writing style and use of symbolism and imagery are what make “The Lottery” a literary masterpiece. Through her careful crafting of the plot and the use of various literary techniques, Jackson creates tension and suspense that keeps readers captivated until the shocking ending. The story is also rich in historical and cultural context, which adds depth to the overall reading experience.

As you explore this study guide, you will find analysis, discussion points, key quotes, and more to help you fully understand and appreciate “The Lottery” by Shirley Jackson. So, let’s dive in and uncover the hidden meanings and messages that lie within this thought-provoking story!


The basic idea of the lottery is that one person is selected at random to be stoned to death by the rest of the town. This act of violence is seen as a necessary sacrifice in order to ensure a good harvest for the coming year. The townspeople view the lottery as a premium that they must pay in order to ensure their own survival.

This premium is seen in the marked contrast between the tone of the narrator and the tone of the characters in the story. The narrator presents the lottery as a simple and routine event, using words like “business-like” and “ritualized.” However, the characters in the story react to the lottery with fear and trepidation, marking a distinct difference in their perception of the “premium” being paid.

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The premium theme is also present in the writing style and structure of the story. Jackson’s use of imagery and historical context helps to emphasize the idea of a premium being paid. The ending of the story, which reveals the disturbing nature of the lottery, further reinforces the premium that has been paid throughout the plot. This premium, seen in the form of sacrifice and the blind allegiance to tradition, challenges the reader to question societal norms and the lengths that people will go to preserve them.

Key Points:

  • The premium in “The Lottery” refers to the sacrifice made by the townspeople to ensure their survival.
  • The contrast between the narrator’s tone and the characters’ reactions highlights the premium being paid.
  • Symbolism, setting, and historical context contribute to the idea of a premium.
  • The writing style and structure emphasize the premium theme.


The narrator, whose point of view we see the events from, provides a basic summary of the story and sets the tone for what’s to come. The characters in “The Lottery” are ordinary townspeople who participate in the annual lottery despite their reservations.

One of the key characters is Mr. Summers, who conducts the lottery and represents the tradition and authority of the lottery. Another important character is Tessie Hutchinson, who becomes the scapegoat when her family is selected for the drawing. Tessie’s husband, Bill Hutchinson, also plays a crucial role in the story.

In addition to these main characters, there are several other townspeople who participate in the lottery, such as Old Man Warner, who strongly believes in the lottery’s importance and tradition. The townspeople’s actions throughout the story portray the act of blindly following tradition without questioning its purpose or morality.

The characters in “The Lottery” serve as a representation of human nature and the darker aspects of society. They act as a reminder that even seemingly ordinary people are capable of committing atrocities when influenced by tradition, societal pressure, or fear of the unknown.

Overall, the characters in “The Lottery” contribute to the suspense and tension buildup, ultimately leading to the shocking ending of the story. Their actions and reactions provide the readers with a deeper understanding of the themes and messages that Shirley Jackson intends to convey.

Writing Style

Jackson’s writing is characterized by vivid imagery and carefully chosen details that help to establish the setting and tone of the story. Her descriptive language allows readers to see and feel the events of the lottery as if they were witnessing them firsthand.

In addition to her use of imagery, Jackson’s writing style also includes the use of symbolism and allegory. The lottery itself can be seen as a symbol for the darker aspects of human nature, and the way in which the characters are marked by their participation in the lottery serves as a powerful allegory for the dangers of blindly following tradition.

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The narrator’s account of the lottery is told in a detached and matter-of-fact tone, which adds to the shocking nature of the story’s ending. This narrative style allows the readers to view the events of the story from a neutral perspective, while still feeling the impact of the events unfolding.

Overall, Shirley Jackson’s writing style in “The Lottery” is an essential part of the story’s impact and meaning. Her use of simple language, powerful imagery, and carefully crafted tone contribute to the story’s ability to provoke thought and spark discussion.

Historical Context of The Lottery

The historical context of “The Lottery” is essential for understanding the story’s themes and the impact it had on readers at the time. In the late 1940s, the United States was recovering from World War II, and facing new fears and anxieties brought on by the Cold War with the Soviet Union. This period of tension and uncertainty is reflected in the story’s dark and unsettling tone.

Shirley Jackson’s writing style combines elements of realism and allegory, using vivid imagery and symbolism to explore deeper themes. The small-town setting and ordinary characters make the shocking ending even more powerful, challenging readers to question their own complacency and participation in acts of violence.

One of the key themes in “The Lottery” is the dangers of blindly following tradition and the potential for evil within a seemingly peaceful community. The lottery is portrayed as a tradition that the townspeople fervently uphold, even though they don’t fully understand its origins or purpose.

Jackson’s use of allegory and symbolism is also apparent in “The Lottery.” The black box used to draw the names of the lottery victims is a powerful symbol of the town’s collective guilt and complicity in the act of violence. The marked slips of paper and the “winner” being stoned to death further emphasize the random and senseless nature of the lottery.

By presenting the lottery as a seemingly harmless annual event, Jackson exposes the darker side of human nature and explores themes of conformity, mob mentality, and the dangers of blindly following tradition. The shocking ending serves as a critique of society’s willingness to participate in acts of violence, highlighting the importance of questioning and challenging the status quo.

Key Points:

  • Shirley Jackson’s “The Lottery” was published in 1948.
  • The story reflects the historical context of post-World War II America.
  • Jackson’s writing style combines realism and allegory.
  • The story explores themes of tradition, violence, and conformity.
  • The shocking ending challenges readers’ perception of their own society.


  1. Adam and Eve: The allusion to Adam and Eve in “The Lottery” can be seen in the setting of the story, which takes place in a small village with a strong sense of tradition. Like Adam and Eve, the villagers blindly follow tradition without questioning its consequences.
  2. Biblical Sacrifice: The lottery itself can be seen as an allusion to biblical sacrifices. Just as Abraham was tested by God and asked to sacrifice his son Isaac, the villagers in “The Lottery” sacrifice one of their own as a way of appeasing some higher power.
  3. Salem Witch Trials: The references to the Salem witch trials in “The Lottery” serve to emphasize the blind obedience and mob mentality of the villagers. Like in the witch trials, the villagers are willing to turn on one of their own without question or hesitation.
  4. The Holocaust: While not explicitly mentioned, the systematic nature of the lottery and the villagers’ lack of empathy towards the chosen individual can be seen as an allusion to the Holocaust. The story serves as a commentary on the dangers of blind obedience and the atrocities that can occur when people fail to question authority.
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These allusions in “The Lottery” serve to enhance the themes of tradition, conformity, and the dangers of blindly following authority. They provide a deeper understanding of the story and its implications.


The setting is also essential for understanding the allegory that Jackson presents in “The Lottery.” On the surface, the setting appears idyllic, with children playing and adults engaging in casual conversation. Yet, beneath this facade, there is a dark and sinister tradition that defines the town’s inhabitants.

The historical context of the story is also crucial for understanding its setting and themes. “The Lottery” was written and published in the years following World War II, a time when society was grappling with the atrocities committed during the war. Jackson’s story serves as a commentary on conformity, blindly following tradition, and the dangers of collective violence.

The setting of the story helps establish its tone and creates a sense of suspense and unease. The peaceful and familiar environment initially lull the readers into a false sense of security before the shocking ritual is revealed. Through the setting, Jackson effectively builds up tension and creates an eerie atmosphere that adds to the story’s impact.


What is the main theme of “The Lottery”?

The main theme of “The Lottery” is the inherent evil in human nature and the dangers of blindly following tradition.

What is the setting of “The Lottery”?

“The Lottery” is set in a small, rural village on a summer’s day.

What is the writing style of “The Lottery”?

The writing style of “The Lottery” is descriptive and suspenseful, with a focus on the mundane details of everyday life.

Who is the narrator of “The Lottery”?

The narrator of “The Lottery” is an omniscient third-person narrator.

What is the historical context of “The Lottery”?

“The Lottery” was written and published in the aftermath of World War II and reflects the anxieties and fears of that time period.

What is the main theme of “The Lottery”?

The main theme of “The Lottery” is the dangers of blindly following tradition and the potential for violence within a community.

Who is the author of “The Lottery”?

The author of “The Lottery” is Shirley Jackson.

Alex Koliada, PhD

By Alex Koliada, PhD

Alex Koliada, PhD, is a well-known doctor. He is famous for studying aging, genetics, and other medical conditions. He works at the Institute of Food Biotechnology and Genomics. His scientific research has been published in the most reputable international magazines. Alex holds a BA in English and Comparative Literature from the University of Southern California, and a TEFL certification from The Boston Language Institute.