A lottery is a game of chance in which people stake money or other valuables for the chance to win a prize. Sometimes, people win a large sum of money. Other times, the winnings are used for a public good, such as education or medical care. Lotteries are often criticized as addictive forms of gambling. Some people even say that they are an unfair form of taxation. But many people still play them. The odds of winning are low, but many people keep playing because they hope that they will win one day.

In Shirley Jackson’s short story, The Lottery, the narrator tells of a small-town lottery. The story takes place on a bucolic summer day as villagers assemble in the town square to participate in the yearly lottery ritual. The first to assemble are children recently on vacation from school. Then, women and adult men begin to gather as well.

The first element of a lottery is some way to record identities and amounts staked by bettors. In modern times, this may take the form of a computer system that records tickets and stakes. But in the past, bettor names were written on paper tickets and then deposited for later shuffling. These papers were often stored in a black box, which the narrator describes as “an ancient piece of original [lottery] paraphernalia.”

The next step is for the entrants to thoroughly mix their tickets or symbols by hand, shaking or tossing them. Then, the tickets are sorted in some way to select the winners. Sometimes, the bettor’s name is written on each ticket; other times, all tickets are grouped and given numbers or symbols by a randomizing procedure such as shuffling or drawing.