What is the Lottery?

The lottery is a form of gambling in which people purchase chances for winning a prize, often money, based on chance or chance-related events. Its history stretches back at least to the ancient practice of divining fate by the casting of lots; some of the first recorded lotteries were organized by Roman emperors for repairs in the city. In the modern world, state-sponsored lotteries are common and have raised substantial sums of money for public projects. The practice has become a major source of income for many states, and the state governments that run them have promoted them as a way to raise funds without raising taxes on people who do not play.

Shirley Jackson’s story takes place in an unnamed rural community on a summer day, the town square filled with a mixture of men and women, young and old, who are all waiting for their turn to participate in the annual lottery ritual. Children recently on summer break are the first to assemble, and they display the stereotypical normality of small-town life as they play games, talk about school, and gossip with their friends.

After a while, the adults begin to join them, and they all look forward to their moment of truth when Mr. Summers tells them to open their tickets. A collective sigh is let out when little Dave’s paper shows a black spot, and Nancy and Bill’s papers are also blank. Finally, the mute Tessie opens hers and discovers that she has won.