The Lottery – A Review

The lottery is a form of gambling in which numbers are drawn for prizes. It is a common way for state governments to raise money for various public purposes, including education and road construction. It has long been popular in Europe and the United States, where it was first introduced in the 17th century. It is often portrayed as a “painless” tax, in which players voluntarily spend their money for the benefit of the government, rather than having it taken from them by force.

Traditionally, lotteries have involved the drawing of lots for a prize. This practice has a long history, with examples in the Bible, as well as the distribution of property and slaves by lot in ancient Rome. The earliest European lotteries were organized for charitable purposes. In the Netherlands, where the Staatsloterij is currently located, the oldest running lottery dates back to 1726.

Today’s state-sponsored lotteries are much more than traditional raffles. They are marketed as a means of helping the poor and providing education, but the truth is that they are primarily a source of tax revenue. Their success is dependent on a massive advertising campaign, which is intended to persuade people to buy tickets and increase revenues. This reliance on advertising at cross-purposes with the state’s public interest has raised a number of concerns, especially among social justice advocates.

Shirley Jackson’s short story, The Lottery, is a powerful critique of modern society’s addiction to lotteries. It depicts the yearly lottery in an unnamed small town, which takes place on June 27 of each year. Several important issues are raised in the story, including the role of tradition and the power of the majority to decide what is right.

The story opens with a scene of the bucolic, small-town setting in which the lottery takes place. It is a warm day, and the inhabitants are gathered in the town square to watch the proceedings. Children on summer break are the first to assemble, followed by adult men and women. They are chatting and gossiping, exhibiting the stereotypical normality of small-town life. The narrator then introduces Mr. Summers, the organizer of the lottery and master of ceremonies. He is carrying a black box, which he sets on a stool in the center of the square.

After the children and adults have chosen their numbers, Mr. Summers tells them to open their slips. There is a general sigh of disappointment when little Dave’s paper is revealed to be blank, as are the papers of Nancy and Bill. Only Tessie’s, bearing a black spot, is the winner. The others are losers. The narrator then comments that the lottery must continue because it is “their custom” and that, if corn is heavy in harvest, they will need more money to help the poor. The narrator’s final comment is that it is important to remember that evil can happen even in the most peaceful looking places. This article was originally published in September, 2017 and has been updated.