What is a Lottery?

A lottery is a process by which something limited but high in demand is allocated through a random selection of participants. Examples include kindergarten placements at a reputable school, units in a subsidized housing block, or vaccines for a rapidly spreading disease. Two of the most common types of lotteries are those that dish out cash prizes to paying participants and those that occur in sport.

The first recorded public lotteries were in the Low Countries in the 15th century, raising funds for town fortifications and to help the poor. They spread to the English colonies, where they were promoted as a painless form of taxation. Some of the nation’s most famous colleges, including Harvard, Brown, Yale, and Columbia, owe their beginnings to lottery money.

In the late nineteen-seventies and into the eighties, Cohen argues, Americans became obsessed with the idea of winning a multimillion-dollar lottery jackpot. This obsession coincided with a dramatic decline in the economic security of working people, as income inequality widened, job security and pensions eroded, health-care costs soared, and federal and state funding for education declined.

In The Lottery, Shirley Jackson uses characterization methods to depict the evil nature of humankind. The characters in this short story act in conformity with cultural norms and traditions, despite their apparent good intentions. The story’s setting also suggests that these evil acts are tolerated by people because of their social context. The narrator states that the inhabitants of the village “greeted each other and exchanged bits of gossip, handled each other without a flinch of sympathy.” They behave this way because they believe that their actions will bring them benefit in the long run.