The History of the Lottery

The lottery is a game in which people pay a fee for the chance to win a prize. Prizes may be money, goods, services, or other items of value. Those who win a lottery often have to pay taxes on the winnings, and many end up bankrupt within a short time. Americans spend over $80 billion each year on lotteries. Instead, people should use this money to build emergency funds or pay off credit card debt.

The casting of lots has a long history in human culture, although the practice was not used for material gain until the 16th century. Public lotteries began in Europe in the 1500s, when towns hoped to raise money for fortifications and poor relief. The first European public lottery with a money prize was the ventura, held from 1476 in Modena under the patronage of the powerful House of Este.

In colonial America, the Continental Congress voted to establish a lottery to help finance the American Revolution. Other lotteries were privately organized to help raise money for schools and other charitable projects. Benjamin Franklin ran a lottery to help pay for cannons to defend Philadelphia from the British invasion.

The villagers in Shirley Jackson’s story all attend the lottery of death. The entire community assembles in the town square for the lottery, and nobody questions it, even though they all know that it’s cruel and abusive. Jackson uses this scene to point out that people blindly follow tradition, and they don’t think about how harmful it can be.