The History of the Lottery

In the United States, lottery participants spend billions each week playing for a chance to win a huge jackpot. The odds are slim, but people continue to participate, fueled by the belief that luck and hard work will bring them a better life. This obsession with lottery winnings has a long history, and it reflects the decline in economic security for most working Americans in recent decades. This decline was caused by a combination of factors, including declining job opportunities, increased costs for health care and housing, and the loss of the dream that education and hard work would eventually guarantee financial well-being.

Lotteries have a long history of being used to distribute property, especially land, amongst people with equal rights to it. The casting of lots to decide the fate of people and property can be traced back to biblical times, and is attested to in Roman history by such incidents as the casting of lots for the distribution of property during Saturnalian feasts. Lotteries were also popular as a form of entertainment in early America, and as a method of raising funds for various projects and public needs.

Shirley Jackson’s short story “The Lottery” is a chilling tale about the human capacity for persecuting others, even innocently. The villagers in the story have no idea that their action is wrong, and they act with the same enthusiasm that they would show if a member of their family had drawn the winning slip of paper.

Jackson is effective in constructing suspense in the story by using several methods to communicate with her reader about the settings and traditions of the town in which the lottery takes place. She writes, “The children assembled first, of course” (Jackson 1). Her use of the word “of course” implies that this is always the order in which the crowd of villagers begins to assemble for this event. The fact that the children are gathering in a line indicates that the event is typically considered to be harmless and family-friendly, and this is a clear contrast to the morals of the villagers who are about to engage in murder.

The word lottery is derived from the Dutch noun, “lot” meaning “fate.” In the seventeenth century, it became quite common in the Netherlands to organize lotteries for a variety of reasons, including granting money to charity and paying for town fortifications. Lotteries were often a painless way to raise money for public uses, and they were widely used as a method of taxation in other European countries, too. Today, most states have a legalized state lottery to help fund government programs. However, some states are also experimenting with other ways to raise revenue, such as a tax on tobacco products and video games. In addition to raising revenue, these efforts have proven successful in curbing the growth of gambling. Despite the success of these new efforts, some states are still relying on the old-fashioned lottery to collect taxes.

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