What is a Lottery?

A lottery is a game in which numbers or symbols are drawn to determine a winner. There are a variety of different types of lotteries, but they all have the same basic elements: tickets, prize money, and a way to sell the tickets. Most lotteries also have a mechanism for pooling the stakes that are paid to buy a ticket. Then, a percentage of that total is used for costs associated with organizing and marketing the lottery, and a remaining percentage is available to the winners. Typically, the larger the prize money, the more people will want to purchase tickets.

A few of the states that introduced lotteries in the 1960s did so in response to a need for additional state revenue, but others saw the lottery as a way to reduce taxes for their middle and working class residents. In fact, in the immediate post-World War II period, the Northeastern states were especially eager to start lotteries, assuming that they would help them expand their services without raising taxes.

In Jackson’s story, the head of each family draws a slip of paper that is marked with a black spot. There is banter among the villagers, and an elderly man quotes a traditional rhyme: “Lottery in June/Corn will be heavy soon.”

The New Yorker’s 1948 publication of Shirley Jackson’s “The Lottery” generated more letters to the magazine than any other piece of fiction it had ever published. Readers were enraged, disgusted, occasionally curious, and almost uniformly bewildered.