What is the Lottery?


In the lottery, people buy tickets for a chance to win a prize. The prize may be money or something else, such as a vacation or a car. Historically, people have also used lotteries to raise money for public projects, such as building roads, schools, churches, and canals. In colonial America, public lotteries raised money for the Continental Army and other public needs. Many states today use lotteries to award prizes for a variety of public projects, such as units in subsidized housing or kindergarten placements.

In this story, a small village prepares for its annual lottery on June 27. Children pile up stones as adults assemble, and Old Man Warner quotes an old proverb: “Lottery in June; corn be heavy soon.” The story suggests that the villagers are hoping to change their luck this year.

Jackson depicts the lottery as a serious moral issue and uses a range of characterization methods, including setting, actions, and general behavior. For example, Mrs. Delacroix is a determined woman with a quick temper. Her action of picking a stone expresses this character trait.

The word lottery comes from the Dutch verb loten, meaning “to throw (lots)” or “to divide by lots.” The first European lotteries in the modern sense of the term appeared in the 15th century in Burgundy and Flanders, where towns used them to raise money for town fortifications and help the poor. The first European public lotteries to offer tickets with money as prizes were probably the ventura, held in 1476 in Modena under the d’Este family’s auspices.