Public Policy and the Lottery

Lottery is a form of chance-based public policy in which tickets are sold to win a prize. In the United States, state-sponsored lotteries are a popular source of revenue for education, infrastructure, and other public goods. While lottery advertising often portrays it as a benign form of entertainment, critics point to the potential for compulsive gambling and the regressive impact on lower-income individuals. Despite these concerns, few people object to the existence of lottery in principle; only to specific features of its operations and their consequences.

The short story “The Lottery” by Shirley Jackson tells a tale of violence and devotion to tradition. The narrator of the story describes a bucolic small town setting where villagers gather to take part in their annual lottery, a ritual that culminates in stoning a random woman to death. Jackson’s story raises questions about the meaning of public ritual, the need for social awareness, and the pernicious effect of mob mentality.

Children, recently on summer break from school, are the first to assemble in the square. As they do, they squabble among themselves and display the stereotypical normality of small-town life. Men and women then begin to assemble, showing the typical patterns of male-dominated societies, which organize their families around male breadwinners.

Eventually, Mr. Summers, the organizer of this lottery and master of ceremonies, enters the square with a black box, which he sets on a stool in the center of the square. He remarks that the current black box is not original; it is a relic of a previous lottery. The narrator explains that the villagers revere this box because of its association with the past.

After all the family members have selected their tickets, Mr. Summers calls upon the mute Tessie Hutchinson to reveal her slip, which bears a black spot. The narrator implies that the villagers know she is the winner and will scream at her to kill her.

While the narrator does not explicitly state it, it is clear that the villagers have been trained to view this lottery as a legitimate and necessary part of their community’s culture. The fact that the lottery takes place on a regular basis – and always on the same day of the year – reinforces this notion. In addition, Old Man Warner, a conservative force in the story, maintains that the lottery is necessary because “Lottery in June makes corn heavy soon.”

The story also illustrates the role of scapegoats within a society. It is no coincidence that the scapegoat for this particular lottery is a woman. Historically, societies have oppressed certain groups to mark their boundaries and valorize themselves. This is a common practice in patriarchal cultures, where women and other minorities are scapegoated to promote the image of a strong and healthy masculine culture. In this case, the villagers’ willingness to sacrifice one of their own to perpetuate their traditional way of life points to their ignorance and denial of the need for independent thought.