The Lottery and Other Stories is a collection of twenty-five stories written by Shirley Jackson. These stories range from the ordinary to the fantastic. Some of her stories describe the experiences of housewives and mothers in typical town settings, while others hint at mental illness and diabolical fantasies experienced by unstable characters.
“The Intoxicated”: at a house party in suburban America, an intoxicated male guest encounters Eileen, 17, the daughter of the party hosts. They talk about the end of the world and her homework.
“The Daemon Lover”: An unreliable narrator prepares for her wedding, but the groom, Jamie Harris, never comes to pick her up. She searches for him in vain, most likely because he does not exist.
“Like Mother Used to Make”: David maintains an apartment meticulously because it expresses his identity, but this stasis is challenged in his relationship with Marcia.
“Trial by Combat”: an older woman is stealing things from Emily Johnson and is thus stealing her identity. When Emily realizes that they have parallel lives, she feels enough empathy for the thief that she does not react with any antagonism.
“The Villager”: Hilda Clarence pretends she is someone else while she is at someone else’s apartment, not revealing to other visitors (who saw the same ad for the apartment and its furniture) that she is not the owner.
“My Life with R. H. Macy”: A woman finds herself as just a number in her new job at Macy’s, a department store. She quits after two days.
“The Witch”: A child in a train engages in conversation with a man who tells a story of dismembering his own sister, which jolts the child’s inattentive mother away from her baby into attention to the boy for a little while.
“The Renegade”: A woman’s dog is accused of killing chickens, and everyone in town hears about it. Various brutal methods of killing the dog or otherwise resolving the issue are proposed, all to the woman’s horror, as she personally identifies with society’s attacks on the dog’s habits.
“After You, My Dear Alphonse”: Johnny and his African American friend, Boyd, are at Johnny’s mother’s home. She is a bit condescending and racist in her conversation with Boyd, but this has little or no effect on the boys’ friendship, while it does make Boyd feel uneasy for a little while.
“Charles”: A boy starts misbehaving in school and blames everything on an alter ego he creates named Charles. His parents never figure it out. Finally, when his mother asks his teacher, she reveals that she has no student named Charles.
“Afternoon in Linen”: Two families implicitly compete by demonstrating the artistic virtues of the children. Harriet is unwilling to play along and, after she refuses to read one of her poems but one is read after all, she embarrasses her family by saying that she plagiarized it. She thus successfully resists the competition.
“Flower Garden”: Mrs. Winning is friends with a woman who hires an African American man to do work on the property. The racist townspeople start to shun the woman, and soon Mrs. Winning does as well even though she is an outsider herself, having married into an old family of the town.
“Dorothy and My Grandmother and the Sailors”: a woman is brought up by her older female relatives to fear sailors, and although she never has a bad interaction with a sailor (she avoids them), she becomes irrationally afraid of them and cannot even sit next to them.
“Colloquy”: A woman goes to the doctor to inquire about her husband’s possible insanity. The doctor’s response is so confusing that she becomes hysterical and might be the crazy one herself, though she thinks she might be the only sane person around.
“Elizabeth”: Elizabeth Style lives in New York and works in a small literary agency. Her boss, Robert Shax, is also her lover. She learns at work that Robert has hired the young Daphne Hill as office assistant. Elizabeth becomes jealous, treats Daphne badly, and fires her. Things start to go a little worse for her and Robert, and she tries to make contact with a former client, James Harris, hoping that he will be her ticket to a new life.
“A Fine Old Firm”: Two mothers meet and talk about their sons in the military. The family situations are very similar, yet the women’s pride makes each one try subtly to demonstrate a little superior over the other, especially regarding their likely employment in law firms.
“The Dummy”: Two women enter a restaurant, and one is a complainer. A ventriloquist enters and does an uninteresting show, then sits down with a female friend nearby. They fight, and the ventriloquist puts awful words in the dummy’s mouth. One of the women slaps the dummy, and the female friend straightens the dummy’s head.
“Seven Types of Ambiguity”: A man is excited about buying a book and has the owner promise to sell it to him later. He shows another couple around the store, then leaves, but the owner sells the very book to the couple instead, violating the agreement.
“Come Dance with Me in Ireland”: A poor-looking man appears at a home where three women are spending time. They tend to judge him negatively but ultimately show some hospitality. After he is frank about his feelings and ideas instead of appropriately polite and grateful, the women feel that their negative judgments are confirmed.
“Of Course”: Mrs. Tylor greets a new family moving into the house next door. The Harris family strangely does not go to movies or listen to the radio—or play bridge or read the newspaper. Mrs. Tylor clearly has nothing in common with them, so she leaves.
“Pillar of Salt”: Margaret and her husband vacation in New York City. After a scare in which she is erroneously told that the building is on fire, she becomes progressively scared of everything in the big city, eventually becoming unable even to cross the street. Even Long Island is not safe and is macabre, for she deals with a girl who found a human leg on the beach.
“Men with Their Big Shoes”: Mrs. Anderson, who works in Mrs. Hart’s home, engineers a conversation where she leads Mrs. Hart to believe that the neighborhood is gossiping about her relationship with her husband, and that to protect herself from further gossip she needs to let Mrs. Anderson live in her home.
“The Tooth”: A woman travels into the city for oral surgery. She frequently falls asleep and has minor encounters with Jim Harris, has a successful operation, loses all track of her identity, and ends up running barefoot through the city in a fantasy of running with Harris on a beach.
“Got a Letter from Jimmy”: Over a meal with a male companion, presumably her husband, she learns that he received a letter from someone named Jimmy. She wants to know what it says, but he says he will just return it unopened. She becomes furious and homicidal, though she does not reveal her feelings during the conversation.
“The Lottery”: The villagers assemble for the annual lottery. Each family takes a slip. The chosen family comes forward, and each family member takes a slip. The chosen person, Tess, is coldly stoned to death as the sacrifice for the harvest.