The Lottery – A Tax on the Stupendous


In her short story, The Lottery, Shirley Jackson portrays a village ruled by tradition and ritual. The lottery is one of these traditions. People blindly follow it, not realizing how unlikely it is to win. In this setting, Jackson condemns humankind’s evil nature.

A lottery is a form of gambling that involves a pooling and distributing winnings in the form of money or goods. It typically requires a certain amount of money to participate, and it can be organized so that a portion of the profits are donated to charitable causes.

Lotteries have long been a popular means of raising funds for various purposes, and they are now common in many states. In the early twentieth century, they were promoted by public officials looking for a solution to budget crises that would not provoke an antitax revolt among voters. The lottery proved attractive because it lowered government spending while keeping taxes steady and increasing state revenue.

Despite initial resistance from Christians, the lottery quickly gained popularity. By 1964, ten states had legalized it, and the trend accelerated as the nation’s late-twentieth-century tax revolt intensified. As a result, jackpots rose to apparently newsworthy levels, and the odds of winning became even more dismal.

Defending the lottery, its defenders sometimes cast it as a “tax on the stupid.” But this implies that players don’t understand how unlikely it is to win or that they ignore the risks. In reality, as Cohen writes, lottery sales are responsive to economic fluctuations; people with higher incomes buy fewer tickets than those with lower ones (except when the jackpots reach a ten-figure sum). On average, Americans making fifty thousand dollars a year spend one per cent of their income on tickets, while those earning less than thirty thousand dollars do thirteen per cent.