What is the Lottery?

The lottery is a system of drawing lots for prizes, typically cash or goods. It is sometimes a form of gambling, but it also raises money for a variety of public purposes such as education and infrastructure projects. It is generally considered a form of social welfare.

Lotteries have a long history in Europe and America, and are usually run by state governments. The name probably derives from the Dutch word lottery, or in French from Loterie, meaning “action of drawing lots”. The earliest state-sponsored lotteries were organized by towns and cities to raise funds for wall and town fortifications, and for poor relief. The word lottery was first used in English in the early 15th century, possibly as a calque on Middle Dutch lotinge, but records of lottery-type events date back to the Low Countries in the 1500s.

In colonial America, lotteries were a major source of funding for private and public ventures, such as roads, canals, bridges, churches, libraries, schools, hospitals and colleges. By the 1740s, more than 200 lotteries were sanctioned in the colonies and accounted for a substantial part of government revenues.

In Jackson’s story, villagers gather in the bucolic town square for their annual lottery. Children recently on summer break are the first to assemble, but they are quickly joined by boys and men. The group demonstrates the stereotypical normalcy of small-town life, chatting and warmly gossiping. Then Mrs. Delacroix, a woman who has been friendly to Tessie throughout the story, supplies her with a stone. The villagers then begin to select their stones from the pile.

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