In the United States, lotteries are government-sponsored games of chance in which participants purchase tickets for a small sum of money and then have the opportunity to win large prizes such as cash or goods. In contrast to gambling, which involves taking risks with other people’s money, a lottery is based on pure chance. In the story “The Lottery,” Jackson uses characterization and setting to highlight the harmful effects of blind conformity and the potential for ordinary individuals to become perpetrators of violence. The story also calls into question the notion that traditions should be preserved simply because they are ingrained in a culture’s history.
In colonial America, lotteries were widely used to raise money for public projects, including roads, libraries, churches, canals, and bridges. Lotteries were also a popular way to raise funds for private enterprises, such as schools and colleges. In 1740, the Academy Lottery raised enough to establish Harvard, Dartmouth, Yale, Columbia, and King’s College (now Columbia). In the early 18th century, several states began using lotteries to raise taxes for their militias.
During the early years of American independence, state governments promoted lotteries as an efficient and painless method of collecting revenue. This was because, compared to income taxes, lotteries did not disproportionately affect the poorer classes of society. The poor, however, have a very hard time spending much of their discretionary income on lottery tickets. Those in the bottom quintile of incomes, on average spend only two percent of their total income on such activities.