The Dark Underbelly of Lottery Dreams


With the Powerball jackpot at an all-time high, many people may be dreaming a little (or a lot) about winning millions of dollars. And rightfully so, because the Powerball jackpot is the second-largest in U.S. history, but there’s a dark underbelly to these dreams that’s not quite so cheery.

Shirley Jackson’s short story The Lottery takes place in a small village where tradition and custom rule the day. The villagers gather annually to conduct a lottery ritual that ends in the stoning of one of their number. The murder functions under the guise of a sacrament that once had the purpose of ensuring a bountiful harvest, but over time it’s essentially become a celebration of violence and death that exists solely for its own sake.

A basic requirement of any lottery is a way to record identities, amounts staked, and the numbers or symbols on which the money is bet. Normally, the bettor writes his name or other symbol on a ticket that is then deposited with the lottery organization for shuffling and possible selection in the drawing. The bettor then has the responsibility to determine later if his ticket is among the winners.

A further requirement is a set of rules determining the frequencies and sizes of prizes. Often, a percentage of the pool is used for organizing and promoting the lottery, while other costs must be deducted from the prize pool as well. Of the remainder, it must be decided whether to offer few large prizes or more frequent smaller ones.