In a lottery, participants buy tickets to win a prize. Prizes can be money or goods. They are usually awarded by chance, with the odds of winning being very low. Lotteries have been around for centuries and were once a popular method of raising funds for a variety of public usages. The first known lotteries were organized in the 15th century. The modern version of a lottery includes a draw of numbers, a raffle, or some other form of chance-based random selection. Often, the amount of the prizes is fixed before the start of the lottery. Normally, the organizers of the lottery retain a portion of the total pool to cover costs and profits.
The story begins with the people assembling for the lottery, “The children assembled first, of course, gathering round the windows in their excitement” (Jackson 1). The way Jackson describes the assemblage shows that the town views this event as innocent and harmless. However, this short story is not about a town holding a lottery for charity or to save its inhabitants from disaster; it is a morality tale about stoning someone to death.
While people may play the lottery because they like to gamble, Cohen argues that there is more going on. Lotteries dangle the promise of instant riches in an age when wealth is concentrated and social mobility is limited. They exploit a deep-rooted human desire to make the big bucks.
In addition, he notes that the lottery’s appeal has intensified as state governments face financial crises and seek ways to balance budgets without increasing taxes or cutting services, which would be unpopular with voters. As a result, the number of available tickets has grown and the size of the jackpots has increased. The odds of winning have also gotten much worse. Today, a person can buy a ticket with one-in-three million odds.
Another reason for the growing popularity of the lottery is that it can be played for as little as $1. In the past, states promoted the fact that only small percentages of proceeds go to charity, making the lottery seem a reasonable alternative to taxes. But now, the vast majority of lottery revenue comes from a player base that is disproportionately lower-income, less educated, nonwhite, and male.
Lastly, there is the scapegoat effect, where the townspeople are seeking a figure to blame for their troubles and the lottery. This is hinted at by Mrs. Delacroix’s action when she picks a large rock and throws it at the lottery drawing. The other members of the town gleefully join in, throwing stones at her in return.
While some readers may be appalled by the story’s moral, others might see it as a reminder of our darker nature. Regardless of our view, the story is an excellent example of how to use various characterization methods. The setting, actions, and the general behavior of the characters all contribute to characterization.