Problems With the Lottery

The lottery is a form of gambling whereby numbers are drawn and winners are awarded prizes. The prize money can be anything from goods to services or even cash. There are several different ways in which a lottery can be organized, but the principle of determining winning numbers by chance is common to all lotteries. The casting of lots for decisions and fates has a long record in human history, including many instances in the Bible. The first recorded public lotteries to offer tickets and award prizes in the form of money were held in the Low Countries during the 15th century, raising funds for town fortifications and helping the poor.

A fundamental issue with state lotteries is that they involve government at any level profiting from an activity which many people wish to avoid. This issue is particularly acute in an anti-tax era where voters want governments to spend more and politicians look at lotteries as a source of “painless” revenues.

There is a second problem with lotteries that results from the way they are run as businesses. Because they are focused on maximizing revenues, advertising necessarily promotes the gambling element in them. This focuses on persuading target groups to spend their money on the lottery, rather than other possible uses of that same money. It may be that such a marketing strategy is necessary for lottery profitability, but it raises questions about whether promoting gambling is the appropriate function for a state to fulfill.

Shirley Jackson’s story, The Lottery, is a tale of how small-town society can be corrupted by an institution that appears to be harmless at its outset. The story illustrates how people can lose their sense of right and wrong by accepting the norms of a culture, and it is an excellent reminder that individuals should always stand up for what they believe to be right, no matter how much they are compelled by tradition or peer pressure.

The setting of the story is familiar to anyone who has ever lived in a small American town. The villagers in the story are eager to participate in the lottery, because it is their tradition and they think that doing so will result in better corn harvests. In the end, however, the lottery becomes a nightmare for Tessie Hutchinson, and shows how evil can appear in seemingly benign societies. The story also reveals how important it is to question authority, especially when that authority seems to be doing something wrong. This is a theme that Shirley Jackson carries throughout her writing. It is a lesson that we all need to remember.