The History of Lottery Fundraising

Lotteries are a form of gambling in which participants have a chance to win a prize based on a random process. The prizes range from money to goods to services. Some governments regulate lotteries while others prohibit them. Lotteries are also controversial because of their potential to produce addiction and regressive effects on lower-income groups. Despite the controversy, lottery revenues have continued to rise and the popularity of gambling in general continues to grow. In addition, there are growing concerns about how lottery proceeds are used.

Historically, people have used the lottery to fund public projects and private enterprises. During the 18th century, lotteries provided a significant portion of public funding for the British Museum, bridges, and other public works. They were also popular in the American colonies for raising money for schools and other civic improvements. The Continental Congress in 1776 voted to establish a national lottery for the purpose of raising funds for the revolution, but it was abandoned. Later, public and licensed promoters raised funds for Harvard, Dartmouth, Yale, King’s College (now Columbia), William and Mary, Union, and Brown universities as well as for the building of many town halls and other civic buildings.

Shirley Jackson’s story, “The Lottery,” is a critique of the way in which society can rely on majority rule to sanction injustice and cruelty. The bucolic setting in which the story takes place serves to demonstrate that the horror of such injustice can take place in even seemingly peaceful places and among seemingly normal people.

Tessie Hutchinson’s transformation from a quiet, inoffensive villager to the perpetrator of violence is also a commentary on how blind conformity to a system can lead to unthinking cruelty. The story was published after World War II, but the themes of scapegoating and discrimination are as relevant today as they were during that time period. The mass incarceration of African Americans, profiling and hate crimes against Muslims after 9/11, and the deportation of immigrants are all examples of modern-day scapegoating and discrimination that can be attributed to a blind acceptance of authority.

The earliest parts of the story establish the idyllic small-town setting in which the lottery takes place. Children recently on summer break are the first to assemble in the town square, engaging in the stereotypically peaceful activity of playing with stones. Adults soon follow. They have gathered for the yearly lottery, which will last for several hours. A hush falls over the crowd as Mr. Summers reads the names of those who have paid for a chance to win. The heads of families approach the box, avoiding looking at the paper slips. The narrator compares this to other towns where they have stopped holding the lottery. Old Man Warner scoffs at this and emphasizes the importance of continuing with tradition.