As the story begins, the people of this small town assemble for their annual lottery, which they practice to ensure that their corn will grow heavy. The children assemble first, of course, and the people begin to crowd together in a way that seems similar to a parade. The lottery is seen as a celebration of good luck and happiness. However, the people that gathered for this particular lottery were about to partake in a murder. This normalization of violence is a central theme in Jackson’s short story.
The lottery is an ancient practice, and has been used in a variety of ways over the centuries. The Bible has a passage where the Lord instructs Moses to take a census of Israel and divide their land by lot, and Roman emperors used lots to give away property and slaves during Saturnalian feasts. The lottery was introduced to America in the early 17th century, and had a role in financing the first English colonies.
Although lotteries are a popular form of fundraising, there is little consensus among experts about their legitimacy or public value. Lottery critics argue that it is an unsuitable activity for government to be promoting, especially when the revenues are earmarked for specific purposes. It is also argued that lotteries are at odds with the general welfare because they promote gambling and create dependent populations of problem gamblers. Despite these criticisms, few states have repealed their lotteries.