The History of the Lottery

The lottery is a procedure for distributing something, usually money or prizes, among a group of people (see also gambling). It has become one of the most common and popular methods of raising funds for public and private purposes. Its popularity is largely due to its simplicity and the fact that it allows the participant to avoid paying direct taxes or other compulsory payments in order to obtain the opportunity of winning. The lottery has its roots in ancient times; it is recorded in the Old Testament that Moses was instructed to take a census of Israel and divide their land by lot, and Roman emperors gave away property and slaves by lot as a form of entertainment at dinner parties. In modern times, the lottery is a form of gambling in which many people purchase chances, called tickets, to win a prize. The prizes can be of different values; a large prize will usually attract more ticket buyers, whereas smaller prizes may encourage fewer purchasers. In some states, the prizes may be in the form of a fixed amount of money, whereas in others they will consist of all or most of the possible permutations of numbers or symbols used on the tickets. In most cases, the total value of the prizes will be equal to or less than the amount collected by the promoter in ticket sales, after expenses and profits for the promoter are deducted.

In the seventeenth century, it became common in Europe for towns to organize public lotteries in order to raise money for town fortifications and charities for the poor. The first lottery in England was chartered by Queen Elizabeth I in 1567. By 1776, the Continental Congress voted to establish a lottery to raise money for the American Revolution. Public lotteries soon became popular in the United States and helped build Harvard, Dartmouth, Yale, Union, Brown, William and Mary, King’s College (now Columbia), and other institutions. By the early 1800s, the Boston Mercantile Journal estimated that 420 lotteries were held annually in the United States.

Shirley Jackson’s short story The Lottery is a classic exploration of the nature of human greed. The story takes place in a remote American village where customs and traditions are very strong. The characters are described in a very straightforward and observational manner, causing the reader to picture exactly what is going on.

It is clear that the main character, Mr. Summers, and his wife are very religious and very traditional in their views of the world. They believe that a person’s fortune is controlled by god. This is reflected in the way they treat their children, their neighbors, and even the strangers on the street.

Despite their moral convictions, they are drawn into a lottery by the promise of a large sum of money. They buy a ticket and wait for their number to be called. In the end, they win nothing, but that is not the point. The big message the lottery is trying to send is that you can win if you buy a ticket, and that you should buy a ticket because it will benefit your community.