The Lottery and Its Critics


The lottery is a popular way for states to raise money. It is a simple system, easy to organize and popular with the public. Its origins date back centuries. The Old Testament describes Moses drawing lots to determine land ownership, while Roman emperors used lotteries to give away slaves. The first state-run lotteries in the United States were introduced by British colonists. The initial reaction was largely negative, with ten states banning them between 1844 and 1859. Since then, lottery laws have varied greatly from state to state, with many allowing both scratch-off and draw games.

Proponents argue that lotteries offer states a way to increase spending without raising taxes or cutting other important programs. They also say that lotteries are an effective way to promote specific public goods, such as education or tourism. Additionally, they point out that lottery proceeds are beneficial to small businesses that sell tickets or provide merchandising services and to large companies that participate in the lottery’s advertising campaigns and computer services.

Despite these arguments, critics of lotteries have many complaints. They claim that lottery promotion promotes addictive gambling behavior, serves as a major regressive tax on lower-income groups, and contributes to other forms of illegal gambling. They also allege that the state is at cross-purposes with its desire to maximize revenues and its duty to protect the welfare of its citizens.

Shirley Jackson’s short story, The Lottery, illustrates some of these criticisms. In this story, the head of each family draws a slip of paper from a box, one of which is marked with a black spot. If the head of the family draws that slip, he or she must perform a task that is deemed inappropriate by the community. For example, the person may be required to perform a certain act of violence or sexual assault.

In the story, Mrs. Tessie Hutchinson is the victim of such an event. She is a middle-aged housewife who has had to take on many responsibilities due to the recent deaths of her husband and three children. She is also a minority and a woman, which adds to her difficulty in being accepted by the community as a whole. This is a case where tradition and societal customs have overwhelmed logic and rationality. As a result, Tessie is forced to carry out an irrational act. This reflects the underlying theme of this story: the power of tradition to control and manipulate our lives.