The lottery is a process of allocating prizes to people who have paid money to participate. The prize amounts depend on the chances of winning – that is, they are determined by chance. People play the lottery to win cash and goods. Some people are not allowed to participate in the lottery because they have a criminal record or other reason for being excluded.
Lotteries have a long history. They were common in the Roman Empire (Nero was a big fan) and are mentioned all over the Bible, where they are used for everything from choosing the next king to divining God’s will. In the seventeenth century, they began to be organized for a wide range of public uses, including raising funds to build town fortifications.
In a modern lottery, participants buy a ticket for a small amount of money. They then select a group of numbers, and machines randomly spit them out. The participants who have selected the most numbers win prizes. The prizes are usually money or goods, but sometimes people also win free tickets to a major sporting event or other special events.
In “The Lottery,” Jackson depicts an ordinary community gathering around a table as they exchange gossip and banter about the Lottery. The town patriarch, a man who seems to be the local version of Ebenezer Scrooge, quotes an old traditional rhyme: “Lottery in June/Corn will be heavy soon.” This is an apt reference to the town’s dependence on farming, and one of Cohen’s main themes is that the lottery is not a neutral mechanism for raising taxes, but rather an instrument of corruption and greed.