A lottery is a game in which numbers are drawn to determine the winner. It can also refer to a system for allocating government offices, military units, or college admissions. The word is probably derived from the Dutch noun lot, meaning fate or luck. The concept has been around for centuries, and the modern game began in the United States during the postwar period as a way to raise money for state programs without onerous taxation.
The story begins in a small village on June 27, and the children are the first to assemble for their annual lottery. They pile up stones, and Old Man Warner quotes an old proverb, “Lottery in June, corn be heavy soon.” Rumors have spread that some nearby villages have stopped holding the lottery; but the townspeople argue that it is as important now as ever, and they are inflexible about keeping it.
After the children gather, they draw their slips. Bill and Tessie are among the five to draw; they are both marked, but they do not believe that their fortunes have been determined by fate. As the other three draw their numbers, they taunt and tease Tessie, telling her that she is a thief and a cheat who would never win. She cries that it isn’t fair, but the other townspeople pick up the stones they have gathered and begin stoning her to death.
Jackson uses the lottery tradition to illustrate how people in a culture can stoop to the lowest level of human behavior in accordance with cultural beliefs and practices. The story is a tragic reminder that the evils of one generation can be perpetuated by the next, and that it is up to individuals to resist such oppressive forces.
In the United States, the lottery is a public game run by state or local governments. The winners are rewarded with cash prizes. The first recorded lottery in America was a private one held by the Province of Massachusetts Bay in 1744 to raise funds for roads, libraries, and churches. During the French and Indian War, several colonies used lotteries to fund public works projects such as bridges and canals, as well as to provide a defense fund for militias.
In recent years, the lottery has grown in popularity. According to research by Cohen, a sociology professor, this has coincided with declines in financial security for many Americans. Since the nineteen-seventies, income inequality has widened, job security and pensions have been eroded, health-care costs have increased, and poverty rates have risen. In response, lottery play has soared. Lottery ads are heavily promoted in neighborhoods disproportionately represented by poor, Black, or Latino people. As a result, lottery revenues are rising rapidly even as other government sources of revenue shrink. This trend is likely to continue as long as the American dream of achieving wealth through hard work and personal initiative continues to unravel.