Sun. Jul 21st, 2024

The narrator of this short story describes a bucolic small town where people gather in the village square for a yearly lottery. Children recently on summer break are the first to assemble, then men and women of various ages. They display the stereotypical normalcy of rural life, chatting and gossiping, as they prepare to participate in the lottery.

When they are ready, the children distribute slips of paper, each bearing a number. The narrator then explains that the prize money will be based on the number selected. When the number is announced, a general sigh is let out when little Dave’s paper has a black spot. He tries to persuade his family and neighbors that the black spot is no big deal, but they sigh again when Nancy’s slip also has a black spot.

At this point, the narrator begins to squirm, and it becomes clear that she is in a bind. She has to reveal her number, and it’s a good thing that she does—the black spot is the winning one!

Since state lotteries were introduced in the immediate post-World War II period, they have largely been marketed as a way for states to raise money for education and other services without raising taxes. This argument has proven successful, even though studies show that state lottery revenues increase dramatically after introduction and then plateau or decline. In addition, because lottery games are essentially gambling, their advertising necessarily focuses on promoting them to potential players, which runs at cross-purposes with the larger public interest.