What is a Lottery?
A lottery is an activity in which a prize, such as money or goods, is awarded to a random winner. The term “lottery” comes from the Middle Dutch word loterij, which is derived from the Latin literae, meaning “drawing lots.” The practice of drawing lots dates back centuries. Moses was instructed to conduct a census of the Israelites and divide land by lot, while Roman emperors reportedly used lotteries as a way to give away slaves. During the eighteenth century, lottery games were popular in the Low Countries and England. They were also a common form of entertainment during dinner parties and other gatherings. Typically, the host would ask guests to write their name on a piece of wood and put it in a hat. Then the guests would draw names and the winning person received a prize.
In the United States, state-run lotteries have become popular for raising revenue for public projects. New Hampshire, known for being tax-averse, approved the first state lottery in 1964. A number of other states followed suit, despite the fact that Alexander Hamilton had warned against them in the early nineteenth century. He noted that “most men will hazard trifling sums for the chance of considerable gain, and that a great many would prefer a small chance of winning much to a large chance of winning little.”
The Lottery by Shirley Jackson is a short story about a middle-aged housewife named Tessie who is forced to participate in a town lottery. She is reluctant because she feels the lottery has no moral value and that it is a form of scapegoating people. However, she does her chores and arrives at the lottery just in time to hear a traditional rhyme: “Lottery in June/Corn be heavy soon.”
During the lottery, each head of family draws a folded slip of paper from a box. One of the slips is marked with a black spot. Tessie’s is the drawn one, and she yells about the injustice of it all. The townspeople then begin to throw stones at her.
Tessie is eventually stoned to death, which demonstrates that the lottery has not made her a better person. In addition, it shows how human nature can be evil even if we appear friendly. The story concludes with the implication that the lottery will continue to be used for similar purposes in the future.
The most obvious type of financial lottery is a cash prize. This creates loads of eagerness and dreams of tossing off the burden of “working for the man” for thousands of people. Other examples include a sports lottery in which teams draw numbers to determine who gets the first opportunity to pick the best college player. Some people create syndicates in which they each contribute a small amount to purchase multiple tickets, thereby increasing their chances of winning. The winners then use the winnings to improve their lives. Some also use the winnings to support charitable causes.