Lottery is a popular way to raise money. It’s simple to organize, inexpensive and very popular with the general public. Its wide appeal is based on the fact that there’s a very slim chance of winning — and even if you do win, it’s often not enough to make a significant difference in your life.
The story takes place in a small, unnamed American village where residents are gathering for the annual lottery. Children are piling stones while adults assemble for the event, which is said to ensure a good harvest; Old Man Warner quotes an ancient proverb: “Lottery in June, corn be heavy soon.”
Jackson describes how the heads of families prepare for Lottery Day by assembling and discussing the arrangements the night before. Then, on Lottery Day, each family draws a folded slip of paper from a black box. One slip is marked with a black spot. If the head of a family draws this ticket, everyone in that household must take part in the lottery again, for another chance to draw the black-spot slip.
One of the children is named Dickie Delacroix, whose last name means “the cross.” This is an ironic reference to the town’s lottery tradition that seems anything but holy. It’s also a commentary on how the violence in the story, written three years after World War II, seems normalized.
Lotteries are often run by state or federal governments, and are similar to gambling in that multiple people pay a low price for the chance to win a large sum of money. In the United States, for example, winners are paid in either an annuity or a lump-sum payment. A winner who chooses a lump-sum payment receives a much smaller amount than the advertised jackpot, because of the time value of money and the income taxes owed on the prize.