The History of the Lottery


A lottery is a gambling game that involves paying a small sum of money for the chance to win a large prize. Prizes range from cash to items, and winners are determined by chance rather than skill. Some state governments organize lotteries that offer large cash prizes, while others have private lotteries, which are organized by individual companies that are licensed to operate them. Regardless of how the lottery is run, it is a popular way to raise money for public purposes.

In the 17th century, it was common in European cities to hold private or public lotteries to raise funds for town fortifications and aid the poor. The first lottery offering tickets with money prizes in the modern sense of the word may have been the ventura held in 1476 at the court of the Italian house of d’Este. The earliest recorded European public lotteries involving money prizes were in the Low Countries in the 15th century, when towns held private and public lotteries to raise money for town walls and fortifications.

Jackson uses the lottery to illustrate how a society’s traditions can stifle free thought and creativity. In her story, Tessie’s rebellion begins when she is late for the lottery—a social faux pas that demonstrates her resistance to everything that the lottery stands for. When her name is drawn, she shouts “get up there, Bill,” which inverts the power relations that normally exist between husbands and wives. The crowd roars with nervous laughter, and Tessie is accused of being insubordinate and rebelling against tradition (Kosenko pp).