The Lottery

A lottery is a game in which numbers are drawn to win prizes. It has become a popular way to raise money for charities, schools and public usages such as roads and hospitals. Its popularity is partly due to the fact that it is a relatively painless form of taxation. Lottery revenues are normally derived from ticket sales, with some of the total amount going to costs such as organization and promotion and a percentage also going to taxes and profits for the state or sponsor. The remainder of the prize pool is awarded to winners. The chances of winning are much higher than for other types of games such as bingo and card games.

The story takes place in a bucolic, unnamed small town and centers around the annual lottery ritual. Children, recently on summer break, are the first to gather in the town square. They are joined by adult men and women who exhibit the stereotypical normalcy of small-town life, exhibiting a warm conviviality as they chat about work, families and children. Then Mr. Summers, the master of the lottery, arrives with a black box that he places on a stool in the center of the square.

As the villagers begin to select their stones, it becomes clear that this is no ordinary lottery. As the narrator describes in an aside, the casting of lots to decide one’s fate has a long history (it is referenced several times in the Bible) but it is only in modern times that the lottery has become a method for raising funds. The lottery’s popularity led to the emergence of a national system of lotteries in the US. The lottery is now an important source of revenue for many states.

A major theme of The Lottery is the power of tradition and the role of scapegoats within societies. Social groups that are tightly knit and committed to a shared tradition can be very effective at persecuting members who do not fit in, or who threaten the group’s status quo. This pattern is most apparent in patriarchal cultures and in countries with strong religious beliefs that valorize male leadership and male-dominated family structures.

Those who do not fit in are often persecuted because they are perceived to be a threat to the group’s identity and moral values. This is particularly common in hierarchical societies such as the Nazi Germany of the 1930s and the patriarchal society of the United States during the Civil War era. The story of The Lottery illustrates the effectiveness of scapegoating and the way that people will ignore or tolerate violence when it is directed at someone they consider to be part of their group.

The scapegoating of Tessie is an example of this pattern. The villagers believe that she is guilty of some unspecified transgression but they cannot articulate what this is. They do not even know why she was selected for the lottery. Despite her pleas, the villagers continue to hurl stones at her and she dies in agony.