A Review of “The Lottery”

Lottery is a game in which numbers are drawn at random and winners win a prize, sometimes a substantial sum of money. Many countries hold lotteries, some regulated by the government and others unregulated. People buy tickets in order to have a chance of winning, but the chances of winning are very small. In fact, the odds of winning a lottery are much lower than the odds of being struck by lightning or winning the Powerball.

The setting for the story is a bucolic, unnamed rural town where the villagers gather in a public square once a year for their yearly lottery. Jackson’s narrator observes that the event lasts no more than two hours and reflects on how this is a far shorter time than that of other, larger towns where the lottery ritual takes longer. Children recently returned from summer break are the first to assemble in the center of the town. Adults, men and women alike, soon follow. They exhibit the stereotypical normalcy of small-town life, warmly chatting and gossiping with one another.

When the children have selected their numbers, Mr. Summers tells them to open their slips. A general sigh is let out when little Dave’s paper is revealed to be blank and Nancy and Bill, Jr.’s papers are also blank. Nevertheless, the mute Tessie Hutchinson’s slip bears a black spot and she is the winner.

Most modern lotteries offer the option of not selecting any numbers at all, instead allowing the computer to randomly select them for you. When you choose this, there is usually a box or section on the playslip that you can mark to indicate that you are willing to accept whatever set of numbers comes up for you. The more of your numbers that match the randomly selected ones, the higher your chances of winning.

People who play the lottery often believe that they will solve all of their problems if they just win the jackpot. This is an example of covetousness, which the Bible forbids (Exodus 20:17; 1 Timothy 6:10). It is a form of greed that lures people into playing the lottery by promising them that they will have everything they want in life if only they could get lucky.

The underlying theme of “The Lottery” is that societies, especially those organized around a sense of shared tradition, will often persecute those they consider to be outsiders in order to reinforce their own sense of unity and nationalism. The fact that the scapegoat in this case is a woman underscores the point that patriarchal cultures, like the one in which the story takes place, can easily turn on their members. In addition, the story suggests that democracy, which tries to be egalitarian and open, can also become oppressive in its own way. For these reasons, the story was a controversial read for American readers at the time of its publication. Fortunately, the story has since gained a greater reputation for its illuminating insights into human nature and its relevance to contemporary issues.