The Lottery and Its Costs

The lottery is a fixture of American society, with people spending upward of $100 billion on tickets each year. States promote lotteries to their citizens, portraying them as painless forms of revenue. Yet the lottery is not without its costs. For example, it may cause some people to lose money they would have spent on something else. And the way in which it distributes its proceeds can have unintended consequences.

In Jackson’s story, the action takes place on a single day in an unnamed town in an unspecified year. The narrator begins the tale by depicting children recently on summer break gathering in the town square. Soon adults begin to gather as well. Eventually, Mr. Summers, the organizer and master of ceremonies of the lottery, arrives. He carries a black box. It is an old box, and the narrator suggests that it contains the original lottery paraphernalia from many years ago.

As the lottery continues, families are forced to turn against one another. A mute named Tessie is selected as the winner of the prize, which is death. The family members must then collectively stone her to death. The story is a powerful illustration of devotion to tradition and fear of changing something due to the concurrence of circumstances.

The popularity of state lotteries has been largely unchanged since New Hampshire established its lottery in 1964. Despite the differences in arguments made for and against them, the structure of lottery operations, and the ways in which they operate, have been remarkably similar across states. This uniformity may explain why lotteries win broad public approval regardless of the actual fiscal conditions of a state.