What is the Lottery?

The term “lottery” refers to a game of chance where participants pay a small amount of money for the opportunity to win a prize. Usually, prizes range from cash to goods or services. Lottery games are commonplace in the United States, where 43 states and the District of Columbia offer them to raise funds for a variety of purposes. The lottery is a form of gambling, and federal law prohibits the direct advertising or promotion of a lottery in interstate commerce.

Historically, the lottery was used as a means to acquire land, and many colonists were familiar with the practice from their ancestors in England. In the American Revolution, Benjamin Franklin promoted a lottery to raise funds for cannons to defend Philadelphia from the British. The popularity of the lottery has continued to grow over time, and it is a highly profitable enterprise for state governments. Despite the resounding success of this popular form of fundraising, critics have attacked its use as an alternative to taxes, its tendency to generate compulsive gamblers, and its alleged regressive impact on lower-income populations.

In the short story The Lottery, Shirley Jackson utilizes a morbid lottery system to symbolize issues of traditions in contemporary society. By highlighting the inability of Tessie Hutchinson to escape the lottery system, Jackson reminds readers of the destructive power of custom and the need for individuals to challenge oppressive systems. The story serves as a warning that the dangers of tradition can be just as deadly as the violence that accompanies it.