The Truth About the Lottery

In modern society, people sometimes organize lotteries to distribute scarce resources. Examples include the allocation of units in a housing block or kindergarten placements at a reputable public school. Probably the most familiar form of lottery is the financial one, where people pay for tickets and are given the chance to win large cash prizes. These prizes are often donated to good causes in the community or reverted to the state.

In fiscal year 2006, Americans wagered more than $44 billion in the nation’s lotteries. These profits are distributed among states according to their respective laws and formulas (Table 7.2).

Whether or not they are aware of it, the villagers in Shirley Jackson’s story hold an unspoken belief that they are doing something right by holding the lottery. The fact that everyone is happy about the event, including Tessie Hutchinson, makes it difficult for the reader to see the true nature of the lottery.

The underlying theme in this short story is that human evil is ever-present, even in small and seemingly peaceful villages. The events that follow the lottery reveal that, despite what the characters’ faces and expressions might suggest, they are not in fact friendly to each other. The fact that they squabble and manipulate each other while pretending to be merely “lucky” shows the hypocrisy and evil-nature of humans. The outcome of the lottery, where the winner is stoned to death, reinforces this conclusion.