Characteristics of the Lottery
People spend upward of $100 billion a year on lottery tickets, making it the most popular form of gambling in the United States. And while defenders argue that it’s not about the money, that people are just stupid and enjoy playing anyway, the truth is much more complicated. Lotteries, after all, aren’t just about selling tickets to a few big winners—they’re also a mechanism for raising tax revenue. And that money, when weighed against state budgets and the impact of those taxes on ordinary people, deserves scrutiny.
In The Lottery, Shirley Jackson uses a number of characterization methods to make the reader understand the story’s setting and the power dynamics between the characters. For example, she begins by describing the children who “assembled first, of course.” This word choice implies that the children are innocent and not yet aware of what’s about to take place.
The author then describes the crowded room and how everyone is excited to participate in the lottery. This characterization technique is known as exposition. It helps the reader to picture what it will be like to actually play the lottery. It also allows the reader to become more invested in the outcome of the lottery. For instance, the story’s setting and the fact that the lottery will lead to a death sentence for one of the participants brings a sense of gravity to the event.
In addition to characterization methods, The Lottery includes a number of descriptive scenes to help the reader get a feel for the setting. For example, the author explains how Mrs. Delacroix picks a huge rock from the ground in frustration, which is another common characterization method. The setting also contributes to the story’s overall theme of class and society.
Throughout history, lotteries have been used as an alternative to traditional taxes and were often promoted as a way for citizens to raise public funds for projects they couldn’t otherwise afford. According to an online government information library, a lottery was used in colonial America to help fund the paving of roads and the construction of wharves and even church buildings. In addition, lotteries were frequently held to raise money for private colleges, including Harvard and Yale.
Cohen argues that the modern incarnation of the lottery began in the nineteen sixties when growing awareness of all the money to be made in the gambling industry collided with a crisis in state funding. As populations grew and inflation rose, it became increasingly difficult for state governments to balance their budgets without raising taxes or cutting social safety net services, both of which were extremely unpopular with voters.
In order to offset these declining revenues, many states turned to the lottery. This strategy allowed them to raise a large amount of money with very little effort and in a way that was not very politically controversial. This approach, however, came at a price. In many cases, the money raised by state lotteries ended up being spent in the hands of a few wealthy individuals while those who played often lost more than they won.