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The Ugly Underbelly of the Lottery

A lottery is a game in which prizes are awarded by chance. Its roots in human culture extend back centuries, with the Old Testament instructing Moses to conduct a census of Israel and divide land by lot. The practice later spread to Europe, where towns used it to raise money for town fortifications and to aid the poor. During the seventeenth and eighteenth centuries, lotteries became more popular in England and America, where they were financed by voluntary contributions. In the nineteen-seventies, as state governments cast about for ways to balance their budgets that wouldn’t enrage antitax voters, the popularity of lotteries surged.

In the unnamed village in this short story, a group of people gather on June 27 for an annual lottery. Children pile stones while adults prepare to draw the slips that will determine who wins a prize of corn. The villagers take the event seriously, believing that it will ensure a successful harvest. They follow an ancient proverb: “Lottery in June, corn be heavy soon.”

The narrator of the story expresses dismay that one of the winners is the wife of Bill Summers. She believes that the lottery is a form of scapegoating, as it purges the town of evil. The story also points out that the lottery is a game in which people are unlikely to win, but they keep playing anyway, often with the idea that they will eventually win big. It is an ugly underbelly of the lottery that, for many, provides a last-ditch hope of becoming rich, however improbable that may be.

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