Many people buy lottery tickets each week, contributing billions of dollars to the economy. Although some people purchase tickets for the pure enjoyment of gambling, others believe that winning the lottery is their only or best chance at a better life. The truth is that the odds of winning are very low. However, for some people, the high stakes of lottery play can lead to serious financial consequences and worsen their quality of life.
This is what Shirley Jackson’s short story “The Lottery” is about. The villagers assemble for the lottery with a casual sense of routine, but when it is time to select the victim, the crowd turns against her with the fervor of ritual murder. She is not guilty of any crime, other than drawing the wrong slip of paper, and yet she is killed for a perceived transgression. Ultimately, the villagers’ blind acceptance of this lottery has led to a form of ritualized murder that can only be broken by someone who is willing to change the rules.
Lotteries are a common method of raising money, and their history goes back centuries. They were once used as a way to distribute property and slaves, but have also helped finance major projects and even wars. In the early United States, lotteries were often tangled up with slavery in unpredictable ways; George Washington managed one that offered human beings as prizes and a formerly enslaved man, Denmark Vesey, won a lottery prize of land in Virginia and then went on to foment a slave rebellion.