What is a Lottery?


A lottery is an arrangement in which something, such as a prize or a piece of land, is distributed by chance. The term is usually applied to financial lotteries in which people pay a small sum for the chance of winning a larger prize, but it can also be used for other arrangements that depend on chance, such as the selection of jury members or school admission.

The practice of determining distributions by lot goes back to ancient times. Moses was instructed to take a census of the Israelites and divide the land among them by lot (Numbers 26:55-56), and Roman emperors held lottery-type games during Saturnalian feasts in which they gave away property and slaves.

In the modern world, state lotteries are common as a means of raising money for a variety of purposes. They are generally seen as painless forms of taxation and have been popularized in the United States since their introduction in the 17th century, with public lotteries helping to fund Harvard, Dartmouth, Yale, and King’s College (now Columbia), and private lotteries allowing people to purchase tickets for the chance to win a large sum of money.

Jackson’s use of a lottery in the story is intended to make us think about human nature and our tendency to engage in evil deeds. He shows the villagers chatting about the event, and an elderly man quotes a traditional rhyme: “Lottery in June/Corn be heavy soon.”