A lottery is an arrangement in which a prize (or more than one) is allocated by chance to a group of people. This arrangement often is used when there is a high demand for something that is limited, such as units in a subsidized housing block or kindergarten placements at a reputable public school. Two common, popular examples are lotteries that occur in sports and those that dish out big cash prizes to paying participants.
A key theme in Jackson’s story is that humankind’s evil nature is omnipresent, even in small, seemingly peaceful looking places. The villagers, despite knowing that their participation in the lottery will lead to death, cheerfully participate. The fact that the deaths are caused in a friendly and casual setting further emphasizes the point.
The irrationality of lottery play is highlighted when Tessie Hutchinson says, “I know the odds are long, but I just have to try.” This statement suggests that the villagers are clear-eyed about their chances of winning, even though they continue to play because they think that doing so will bring them prosperity. They also believe that they must continue the lottery because it is a tradition.
The villagers’ rationalization for their lottery behavior can be seen through the lens of utilitarianism. Utilitarianism is an ethical philosophy that states that the best course of action is the one that will result in the most good for the greatest number of people. Thus, the villagers’ belief that they are doing the right thing by participating in the lottery is validated because it will lead to enough crops so that everyone can be healthy.