History of the Lottery


A contest in which tokens or symbols are drawn to determine winners, with the outcome based wholly on chance. Prizes may be money or goods. The drawing of the winning tokens may be performed by hand or mechanical means, such as shaking or tossing. Alternatively, computers may be used to rank the tickets and counterfoils and then choose the winners.

In colonial America, a lottery system financed many public and private ventures, including canals, bridges, roads, and churches, as well as schools and universities. It also helped fund the French and Indian War, despite strict Protestant proscriptions against gambling.

During the mid-twentieth century, states were casting about for solutions to budgetary crises that would not enrage an increasingly tax averse electorate. Many of these legislators hoped that the lottery might prove a “budgetary miracle” by bringing in hundreds of millions of dollars, thus freeing them from the need to raise taxes.

Shirley Jackson’s short story, The Lottery, depicts the villagers of a rural American village, whose customs and traditions have been passed down from generation to generation. The people greet each other warmly and exchange gossip while, at the same time, their actions suggest a deep evil in human nature. Jackson’s use of ordinary settings and human behaviors reveals the deception and hypocrisy of the lottery, as well as its ability to entrap people and keep them in a cycle of deceit and violence. The story is a classic example of how social institutions can become corrupted and even justify violence against human beings.