The Lottery by Shirley Jackson


A lottery is a form of gambling that is regulated by state governments. Most states have lotteries, although there are six that don’t—Alabama, Alaska, Hawaii, Mississippi, Utah, and Nevada. These states don’t have lotteries because of religious objections, the desire to retain control over gambling and the fact that other sources of income provide enough fiscal urgency. Nevertheless, lottery games are very popular in the United States. Lotteries have a long history and are used for many purposes, from determining land ownership to funding public projects. In colonial America, lottery games were used to pay for paving streets, building wharves and even construction of some of the country’s first church buildings. In the 18th century, the lottery financed some of the country’s best universities, including Harvard and Yale.

In The Lottery, Shirley Jackson describes a small town’s annual lottery. The event is a time of celebration and community spirit. But underneath lies a terrible, almost evil idea. It’s not just that the lottery is a way to kill one person each year; it’s the idea that everyone can gather together, in a community they believe in, to commit such a terrible act. It’s a concept that makes the story so disturbing, and it is the reason the short story has remained such a enduring classic.

The shabby black box that the villagers use to hold their ticket entries in represents both the tradition of the lottery and the illogic of the villagers’ loyalty to it. It is an object that is nearly falling apart and hardly black anymore, but they refuse to replace it because it’s just the way things have always been done. The shabby box reveals that the lottery is not something they truly value or even consider important, just an empty ritual that keeps them from having to actually think about what they’re doing.

The characterization methods that Shirley Jackson uses in the story are a powerful tool to convey the message that people are deceitful and evil by nature. When the villagers greet each other, they do so in a friendly, cheerful manner that belies their true intentions. They are willing to murder a member of their own community if it means they won’t have to think about what they’re doing or face the consequences for it. Even Tessie, the character who appears to have the most pure heart, isn’t above hypocrisy. She seems like the kind of person who would want to help her fellow villagers, but when she ends up being the chosen one, she turns against them. This shows that she, like everyone else in the town, is filled with evil in spite of appearances. This is the central theme that runs throughout The Lottery. Despite the fact that a majority of state governments have lotteries, there is much debate over whether or when to introduce them. While the benefits of the state lotteries are clear to most people, critics point to issues such as the potential for compulsive gambling and regressive impact on lower-income households.