The Lottery

A lottery is an arrangement by which a prize, such as land or money, is allocated to individuals in a class through a process that relies wholly on chance. Modern examples include military conscription, commercial promotions in which property is given away through a toto macau random procedure, and the selection of jury members from lists of registered voters. In these arrangements, the payment of a consideration (property, work, or money) must be made in order to be eligible for the prize. The story by Shirley Jackson, The Lottery, illustrates the dangers that can be posed when this requirement is not met.

In this story, the people in a small town assemble in the village square for the annual lottery. The children, who are on summer break, are the first to gather. They play a game of gathering and sorting stones and exhibit the stereotypical behavior of small-town kids. Adults soon begin to gather as well. They are men and women who display the characteristics of normal small-town life—warmly gossiping and discussing their lives.

The town’s organizer, Mr. Summers, is a man who represents authority. He carries a black wooden box, which he suggests has been used for many years. The story implies that this is the same box that was used for the previous lottery. Its age and the sense of tradition that it carries are both evident from the way the villagers treat it.

After Mr. Summers has distributed the tickets, the villagers begin to select their stones. During the selection, there is a general sigh of relief when little Dave’s paper is revealed to be blank. Nancy and Bill also have blank papers, and the head of the Hutchinson family is forced to reveal his paper, which contains a black spot. Despite the obvious flaws in this drawing, the villagers still hold their breaths.

State lotteries are often criticized for promoting gambling and generating revenues for the government. These critics argue that the lottery is in conflict with the public good. Yet these criticisms are often based on an incomplete understanding of the dynamics of state lotteries. In fact, a state’s lottery is an example of a public policy that evolves piecemeal and incrementally, with the result that the overall welfare is taken into account only intermittently, if at all.

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