What is a Lottery?

A lottery is a form of gambling in which winners are chosen at random, with the odds of winning often being much lower than those of finding true love or getting struck by lightning. It is commonly used as a means of raising funds for a variety of purposes.

Although the casting of lots for determining fates has a long record in human history, public lotteries for material gain are of much more recent origin. The earliest known public lotteries were held in the West to raise money for municipal repairs in Rome and in 1466 in Bruges, Belgium, for the purpose of providing assistance to the poor. The modern practice of offering a variety of games of chance to raise money for public projects has become one of the most popular forms of government-sponsored gambling and generates billions in revenue each year. The money is mainly spent by people who might otherwise be saving for retirement or college tuition, but some spend far more than they can afford.

The central theme in Shirley Jackson’s story is that blind obedience to outdated traditions can result in cruelty. The villagers in the story follow the tradition unquestioningly, even though they know it is wrong. It is a reminder that the modern world can still be filled with cruelty, from mass incarceration of African Americans to profiling and hate crimes against Muslims after 9/11 to the treatment of immigrants in our towns and cities.