The narrative begins on the morning of June 27th, a beautiful and warm summer day that seems full of life. Around ten o’clock, the villagers begin to gather in the town square for the lottery. The narrator explains that the lottery can take up to two days to complete in larger towns, but due to the small size of this particular village, the proceedings move rather quickly. Among the first to arrive are the children, and the boys and girls quickly separate themselves into groups. The boys, led by Bobby Martin, gather and fight over stones while the girls socialize. The town’s men arrive next discussing farm work and finances, and their wives quickly follow suit. Once everyone arrives, each family groups together and waits for the lottery to begin.  

Mr. Summers, the man responsible for running the lottery each year along with other community activities such as square dances and the Halloween program, arrives with a black wooden box. With the help of Mr. Graves, the postmaster, Mr. Summers sets the box onto a stool and mixes up the papers inside of it as the villagers look on. The story’s narrator reveals that the box and the stool date back many years and have been used in every single lottery that Old Man Warner, the most senior member of the community, can remember. Despite the decaying condition of the box and frequent discussions of repairing or replacing it, the villagers fail to do anything about it. Other aspects of the lottery, however, have changed over the years as details of the original proceedings had either become impractical or lost. Instead of the woodchips that once filled the black box, Mr. Summers and Mr. Graves use slips of paper which make it easier to accommodate for the growing size of the village. 

In order for the lottery to begin, Mr. Summers and the villagers must proceed through a series of rituals. These practices, while rooted in the lore of the original lottery, have evolved over time much like the contents of the black box. Lists breaking down the makeup of each family unit are created, and Mr. Graves swears Mr. Summers in as the head of the lottery. In addition to these key rituals, some villagers remember performances and chants that opened the lottery, while others believe that there once was a particular salute that the lottery official needed to use when addressing those who drew from the box. As the details of these traditions became unclear over time, the villagers decided to abandon those aspects of the event. Nevertheless, Mr. Summers is confident in his role as the lottery officiant and stands proudly by the black box, talking to Mr. Graves and the Martin family. Mr. Summers is set to begin the proceedings of the lottery when Mrs. Hutchinson rushes in, exclaiming that she had forgotten what day it was.