Lottery is a story about the power of tradition and illogic. Shirley Jackson uses the theme of the lottery as an example of irrational thinking. She also portrays the ruthless way some people treat others. The story is about a small village and the annual lottery ritual that takes place there. It’s a tradition that is so strong and powerful in this society, the rational mind can’t change the behavior of those involved.
The villagers are anxious and excited on the day of the lottery. They greeted each other and exchanged bits of gossip as they waited for their turn to draw a number. Old Man Warner quotes an old proverb, “Lottery in June/Corn will be heavy soon.” There is an unspoken belief that the lottery will ensure a successful harvest. The shabby black box that holds the tickets is a symbol of both the tradition and the irrational attachment to it. The villagers are unwilling to replace it with anything new because they believe this is what is necessary to ensure the success of the lottery.
Throughout history, governments and private companies have used lotteries to distribute goods and services, such as property, slaves, and land. Lotteries are typically held publicly, with the public purchasing tickets that will be drawn at some future date. The earliest lotteries were drawn by hand, but today’s electronic systems use random number generators to determine the winning numbers.
In the United States, the first official state lottery was conducted in 1832, though there were earlier privately organized lotteries. In the early days of the country, lotteries were viewed as a way to raise “voluntary taxes” that would not burden the general public. Public lotteries became especially popular in the early 19th century, when they helped finance many American colleges and other projects, including building the British Museum and repairing bridges.
By the late 19th and early 20th centuries, religious and moral sensibilities began to turn against lotteries of all kinds, leading to prohibition of gambling in some states. Lotteries were often tainted by corruption, with officials selling tickets and absconding with the proceeds without awarding prizes.
Despite this growing distaste, state lotteries remain highly profitable for their promoters, who spend heavily on advertising to persuade people to spend money they probably don’t have. Super-sized jackpots drive sales, but they can also be a source of embarrassment for the game’s sponsors when they aren’t won. As revenues have dipped in recent years, states have been pushing to introduce new games, with increasing attention given to instant-win games such as keno and video poker. However, even with these innovations, some experts are concerned that the promotion of gambling may run counter to broader social goals. For example, the promotion of these games can lead to addiction and other problems for some groups of people. This concern has fueled criticism of state-run lotteries as inappropriately commercial enterprises.