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Book Review: The Lottery


Lottery is an activity in which people attempt to win a prize by matching numbers drawn at random. It is a common form of gambling and can involve large sums of money. In some countries, the lottery is regulated by law. It can also be used to raise funds for a particular purpose, such as a sports event or disaster relief.

Cohen suggests that during the nineteen-seventies and eighties, America’s obsession with the idea of winning the lottery mirrored a decline in financial security for most working Americans. The economy slowed down, job security was reduced, health-care costs rose, and the old promise that hard work and education would ensure that children were better off than their parents ceased to hold true. Life began to feel like a lottery—with the odds of getting rich becoming ever more one-in-several million.

For politicians confronting budgetary crises without a willingness to institute income or sales taxes, Cohen writes, lotteries appeared to be “budgetary miracles,” the chance for states to make revenue appear seemingly out of thin air. They could maintain existing services without raising taxes, and thus avoid enraging an anti-tax electorate.

The story’s setting and characterization methods are effective at portraying the cynical nature of human behavior. Jackson uses the fact that all of the characters engage in the lottery to demonstrate the hypocrisy of humanity. She demonstrates this by showing that Mrs. Delacroix is determined to win the lottery and quotes a traditional rhyme: “Lottery in June/Corn be heavy soon.” Jackson’s use of characterization techniques, especially those related to the setting and characters, are a strong component in the development of this theme.