What is a Lottery?

A lottery is a system in which people pay to enter a draw for a prize, and their chances of winning are determined by the numbers on the ticket. Prizes may include cash or goods, services, land, or even public usages like a new road or a library. Historically, lotteries have been a popular way to raise money for government and charity. They are often described as a painless form of taxation, and the first recorded use dates back to the 17th century.

A typical lottery requires a group of bettors to submit a sum of money, and each bettor’s name must be written on a ticket or receipt for subsequent shuffling and selection. A percentage of the pool is taken out for costs and administrative fees, and another portion goes as prizes to the winners. The odds of winning are typically very low, but there is an inbuilt desire in humans to try their luck at the prize.

In the story The Lottery, Shirley Jackson uses a small town to explore social themes that are universal to many cultures. One central theme is the blind following of outdated traditions and rituals. In this case, a man named Mr. Summers leads the villagers in the annual lottery. In this ritual, each family must select a slip of paper from a black box. Those who choose the black spot are killed by their family and friends. Despite this horrendous tradition, the villagers continue with the ritual.

After the villagers gather, Mrs. Delacroix supplies the children with stones. The children are instructed to pick the stones that are smooth and round. This type of detail is foreshadowing because the story quickly turns into a horror tale. The adults then select their slips, and a general sigh is heard when little Dave’s slip is revealed to be blank. Tessie’s slip is next, and her face drops as she realizes that she has been chosen to be killed.

A few of the villagers attempt to argue with Mr. Summers and Mr. Graves. However, they quickly realize that this will be useless. They have no choice but to follow the rules. Mrs. Hutchinson attempts to speak up on behalf of her daughter, but she is quickly silenced. The head of the household then forces Tessie to open her slip, which has a black mark. As she reaches for her knife, the other members of the family pull out theirs. There is no doubt that a massacre will occur. This is a great example of the power of mob psychology and society’s mood impacting individuals.