A Novel About the Lottery

The lottery is a game of chance where participants pay a small sum for the opportunity to win a prize. Prizes range from cash to goods and services. Lotteries are popular in many countries and have been used to fund public projects from road construction to military campaigns. Benjamin Franklin held a lottery during the American Revolution to raise money for cannons, and Thomas Jefferson once ran one in an attempt to ease his crushing debts.

Jackson’s story takes place in an unnamed small town on a single day in the summer, when villagers gather in the town square for the annual lottery. Children recently on summer break are among the first to assemble, playing games and displaying the stereotypical warmth of small-town life. Then adult men, then women, begin to gather in groups or as individuals. They exhibit a similar level of normalcy but also a sense that the lottery is their only hope at something more.

They know the odds are long, and they’ve developed quote-unquote systems (that are totally unsupported by statistical reasoning) about lucky numbers and stores and times of day to buy tickets. But they buy in anyway, and most of them are not compulsive gamblers. They’re buying a dream, the fantasy of standing on a stage with an oversized check for millions of dollars. And they know that even if they don’t win, someone else will. Probably someone else just like them.