The Lottery by Shirley Jackson

A lottery is a game in which people pay a small fee for the chance to win a large sum of money. Financial lotteries, which are run by state or federal governments, offer the chance to win huge amounts of money—often millions of dollars. Although the drawing of lots to make decisions and determine fates has a long history (including several instances in the Bible), lotteries that raise funds are of more recent origin. Since 1964, 37 states have adopted lotteries.

State government officials and politicians promote the lottery as a way to raise money for education, roads, hospitals, and other public services without raising taxes on the middle class and working classes. This argument enables state lotteries to win broad public approval even when the state’s fiscal condition is strong. But there is a less-well-known fact about the lottery: It is a form of gambling that essentially dangles the promise of instant riches in front of people who are already struggling to meet their basic needs.

While it is obvious that the odds of winning a lottery are very low, most people believe that there is at least a sliver of hope that they will be one of the lucky ones and win the prize. This belief, coupled with the illusory sense that they are doing their part to improve society, is one of the major motivations for playing the lottery.

The story of Tessie is also a powerful reminder of the role that scapegoats play in societies organized around patriarchal traditions. Jackson makes it clear that the villagers are looking for someone to blame for their misfortune and that it is not just Tessie’s fault that she did not get a good draw. The villagers are all guilty of some degree of discrimination, especially against women and minorities, and this is not something that they can easily admit to themselves.

The short story “The Lottery” is a great example of how Shirley Jackson skillfully uses all the elements that are necessary for a successful short story. It has a compelling plot, well-developed characters, an exquisite setting, and easy-to-understand language. It is also a wonderful example of how to use a theme to drive the story forward. In this case, the theme is the lottery, and it has the potential to be an important topic of discussion for a social studies or personal finance course. A lesson plan is available on this site to help teachers incorporate this topic into their curriculum.