The History of the Lottery

The lottery is a way for people to win a large sum of money by spending a small amount. It is a form of gambling, and its appeal is partly based on the human tendency to covet things that others have. The lottery dangles the promise of instant riches in a time of growing inequality and limited social mobility.

The modern lottery originated in the fourteen-hundreds in Burgundy and Flanders, with towns raising money to fortify their defenses and help the poor. By the sixteen-hundreds, the practice was widespread in Europe, where it was a popular method for raising funds. Lottery proceeds were used for a variety of purposes, including building and maintaining town fortifications, supplying food to the hungry, and paying the fines of those arrested for crimes.

In America, the popularity of lotteries grew in the nineteen-sixties, as state revenues began to decline due to inflation and a growing population. The lottery was seen as a way for states to avoid raising taxes or cutting services, both of which were unpopular with voters. This increase in interest in the lottery coincided with a decline in the national economy, as job security and pensions eroded and health-care costs rose.

Shirley Jackson’s short story “The Lottery” takes place in a rural American village. It portrays a variety of sinful behaviors among the villagers, revealing human evilness in all its forms. Jackson’s description of how the villagers greeted each other and exchanged gossip, while ignoring the needs of those around them, illustrates the hypocrisy of humankind.