Posted on

What is a Lottery?


A lottery is an event in which people pay a fee to enter a competition and then are awarded prizes based on chance. The process can be used to award units in a subsidized housing block, kindergarten placements, sports team spots, or anything else that involves choosing entrants randomly. Lotteries can also be financial, where participants buy tickets for a group of numbers, which are then randomly spit out by machines. If enough of their numbers match the winning ones, they win cash prizes. In the seventeenth century, lottery games were popular in Europe; they were promoted as painless forms of taxation and raised money for everything from town fortifications to colleges and public works projects. In America, they were often a source of revenue during the early colonies; Benjamin Franklin even ran a lottery to raise funds for cannons in the Revolutionary War.

Lottery has been around a long time—the drawing of lots was common in the Roman Empire, and Nero was a fan. They continued to grow in popularity in the seventeenth century, and soon they were being used by governments to finance their treasuries and fund public works. In the United States, they grew out of necessity; the first lottery was organized in 1612, raising money for the Jamestown settlement. It was followed in the 1780s by state-based lotteries, which continue to be used to raise money for a variety of purposes.

Shirley Jackson’s story is about more than a simple lottery; it addresses themes like tradition, societal conformity, and the darker sides of human nature. The key to analyzing this short story is to recognize these undertones, and how they affect the characters and plot of the story.