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Details of contemporary small town American life are contrasted with an annual ritual known as "the lottery". In a small village of about 300 residents, the locals are in an excited yet nervous mood on June 27. Children gather stones as the adult townsfolk assemble for their annual event, which in the local tradition is practiced to ensure a good harvest (one character quotes an old proverb: "Lottery in June, corn be heavy soon"), though there are some rumors that nearby communities are talking of "giving up the lottery."

The lottery preparations start the night before with Mr. Summers and Mr. Graves making the paper slips and the list of all the families. Once the slips are finished, they are put into a black box, which is stored overnight in a safe at the coal company. The next morning the townspeople start close to 10 a.m. in order to have everything done in time for lunch. First, the heads of the households draw slips until every head of household has a slip; Bill Hutchinson gets the one slip with a black spot, meaning that his family has been chosen. The second round is for the family members to draw. For the first round, the men have to be over sixteen years of age, however in the second round everyone is eligible, no matter their age. Bill's wife Tessie gets the marked slip; after the drawing is over and Tessie is picked, the slips are allowed to fly off into the wind. In keeping with tradition, each villager obtains a stone and begins to surround Tessie. The story ends as Tessie is stoned to death while she bemoans the unfairness of the situation.

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