The lottery is a type of gambling where tickets are sold for a chance to win a prize. The prize may be money or goods. The odds of winning are based on the number of tickets sold and the number of winners. The odds of winning a lottery are generally quite low, but the popularity of lotteries means that they can raise significant amounts of money.
In the story, Jackson paints a picture of small-town American life through the lens of an annual community lottery event. The villagers gather in a field for the June event, chatting and gossiping about things that are going on in town. An elderly man quotes an old proverb: “Lottery in June/Corn be heavy soon.”
There is an air of dread as the slips are drawn and the villagers await their fate. The narrator notes that the lottery is usually over in about two hours, a quick pace so that it can get out of the way of people returning home for noon supper. The fact that a local boy is missing is mentioned in passing, but not given any significance, and the lottery continues.
While there are many ways to interpret the meaning of this short story, some of the key themes include a sense of community, social class, and family. The name of the victim, Tessie Hutchinson, is an allusion to Anne Hutchinson, a religious dissenter who was excommunicated from Massachusetts for her Antinomian beliefs. The mention of her name hints at the fact that rebellion may be bubbling up among the women in this fictional village.
A second theme is that the lottery is a form of class warfare. This is reflected in the characterization of Mrs. Delacroix, who is described as a determined woman with a quick temper. Her actions, including picking up a rock that is so big she has to use both hands to hold it, illustrate this determination.
It is also suggested that the lottery is a form of taxation. The narrator states that “people who play the lottery contribute billions to government receipts, which could have been spent on schools or emergency funds or for resolving debt.”
A final theme is that the lottery is a dangerous addiction. It is estimated that 50 percent of Americans buy a lottery ticket each year. But this figure masks the reality that the player base is disproportionately lower-income, less educated, and nonwhite. These people are buying a lot of tickets, and the price of doing so can easily exceed 20 to 30 percent of their incomes. It is no wonder that they are attracted to the gleam of instant riches, even though these riches will likely be consumed by taxes and lost in interest charges over time.