A lottery is a state-sponsored contest in which winners are selected at random. Its roots are in the old Dutch word lot, meaning “fate,” and it was used from the fourteenth century onward to raise funds for town fortifications, charity, and other public works. It was even used to finance the European settlement of America, despite strong Protestant proscriptions against gambling. The word lottery came to the English language from Middle French, though it could also be a calque of Middle Dutch lotinge (“action of drawing lots”).
Although many people play the lottery, it has long been criticized for being addictive and for degrading the quality of life for those who win. The chances of winning are extremely low–statistically, one is more likely to find true love or get hit by lightning than to become a billionaire through the lottery. Even if you do win, the costs of playing can quickly add up.
Rich and poor people alike buy lottery tickets, but the wealthy spend a smaller percentage of their income on them than do those making less than fifty thousand dollars per year. At my local convenience store, it is possible to purchase more than fifty different varieties of scratch-off lottery tickets that resemble–based on their palette, font choices, and general flashy hecticness–the decor for a kindergarten classroom. Jackson depicts horrific and terrible events in a seemingly friendly and casual setting that suggest underlying human evilness. The villagers’ blind acceptance of their lottery tradition may also be an allusion to the Crucifixion, since Jesus was killed for his beliefs, just as these villagers are being killed for theirs.