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The Book of Lottery

The lottery is a popular form of gambling that involves drawing numbers for prizes. Some states have legalized it and others have prohibited it. Lotteries are often criticized for encouraging addictive gambling, but they also raise funds for important public projects. The word “lottery” comes from the Dutch noun lot, meaning fate or destiny. The practice of determining fates or distribution of property by the casting of lots has an ancient history, with references in both the Bible and classical literature. Lotteries have been used for many purposes, from distributing slaves during Saturnalian dinners to allocating land in ancient Israel and the Roman Empire to paying for municipal repairs in Europe.

The villagers gather in the town square for the annual lottery, a bucolic ritual that lasts about two hours. Children on summer break are the first to assemble, followed by men and then women. The narrator observes the stereotypically small-town behaviors of gossiping, warmly exchanging stories and debating work. It is clear that the village is a patriarchal society, organized around adult men and their families. In addition to the obvious gender and age differences, the narrator mentions that people play the lottery according to income: richer people tend to play more, while those with less money play fewer tickets.

Old Man Warner, a village elder, explains that the lottery is necessary for a harmonious and productive society and a bountiful harvest. He scoffs at young people who complain that the lottery has become meaningless, claiming that it is his seventy-seventh year participating. During the lottery, the narrator hears rumors that other towns are abandoning the lottery, and he warns the villagers not to give up on it.

A woman named Tessie appears in the square and is quickly surrounded by the villagers. The narrator witnesses the villagers start to throw stones at her. Tessie tries to appeal to the villagers’ humanity, but she is unsuccessful. The villagers are unable to separate their anger at her from their desire to win a prize. In the end, they stone her to death.

In the modern world, state-sanctioned lotteries are a major source of public revenue. The money raised is often earmarked for a particular purpose, such as public education. Critics argue that this practice misallocates funds and distorts government priorities. For example, the earmarked lottery revenue may reduce the appropriations the legislature would otherwise allot to public education from its general fund. This allows legislators to spend more on other needs. It also gives the lottery an appearance of philanthropy while benefiting favored interests. The lottery has a long history in the United States, including helping to finance the colonial settlements and providing funding for the construction of many public buildings, including Harvard and Yale. The lottery was also a popular source of funds during the American Revolution and after, including Benjamin Franklin’s lottery to raise funds for cannons to defend Philadelphia from the British. In addition, it played an important role in the formation of many states.