What is a Lottery?
A lottery is a game wherein the prize depends on chance. The prizes are usually money or other items, but sometimes services or even land. People have used lotteries for centuries to distribute property, slaves, and other things. They are a common form of taxation and are often promoted as a painless way to raise money for public uses. The Continental Congress voted to hold a lottery in 1776, but the idea was ultimately dropped. Privately organized lotteries were more successful and became popular, helping build Harvard, Dartmouth, Yale, and other American colleges.
Today, the state-run lotteries are a fixture of American society. Americans spend upward of $100 billion a year on tickets, making them the most popular form of gambling in the country. States promote them as a way to raise revenue for things like education, and many people feel that buying a ticket is something of a civic duty. However, the percentage of lottery proceeds that actually go to the state is debatable, and the cost to citizens is real.
The story begins with the children gathering for the lottery. Jackson’s use of “the children assembled first, of course” suggests that this is a regular event in the town and that there is no reason to expect otherwise. As the family heads draw their slips, there is banter among the townspeople about other communities who have stopped holding their lotteries, and an old man quotes a traditional rhyme: “Lottery in June/Corn will be heavy soon.”
Finally, Tessie’s slip is drawn, and she is declared to be the winner. As the crowd begins to pelt her with stones, the story reveals that a lottery is not merely a game but also a method of oppression.