What is a Lottery?

Lottery is a procedure for distributing something (typically money or prizes) among a group of people by chance, often through a drawing. A common form of lottery is one in which people purchase tickets with a variety of numbers or symbols and win if those numbers or symbols match those randomly selected by machines. Other examples of lotteries include those used for military conscription, commercial promotions in which property is given away by random procedure, and the selection of jury members from lists of registered voters.

Lotteries are a popular form of gambling that has been around for centuries. The ancients divided land and slaves by lottery, and Roman emperors gave away slaves at Saturnalian feasts with games of chance. Today, lotteries raise billions of dollars annually for public services and private purposes. Many players feel that it is their civic duty to support the state through a lottery. In fact, the percentage of lottery proceeds that go to a jurisdiction’s general fund is usually lower than that of taxes for education or other public uses.

Shirley Jackson’s short story “The Lottery” is a frightening piece about a small town observing an annual ritual wherein a human sacrifice is chosen. The purpose of the sacrifice is not clear to any character in the story. However, the story depicts a type of socio-economic stratification that is typical of modern capitalist societies and the inherently violent element in our culture. As a result, it remains an enduring social commentary.