There have been a couple of times in the famous Spanish Christmas lottery when a whole community has been turned into millionaires overnight as they’ve clubbed together and brought a share in the lottery draw tickets. There’s even a documentary being produced by about the town of Sodesto, which won the Spanish Christmas lottery in December 2011, and every person in the community had bought in – apart from one man, Costis Mitsotakis, who had been overlooked when the purchase of tickets was being made. However, he’s the one making the documentary, so he’ll still benefit a little from the town’s win.
This happy outcome is a far cry from the plot of the short story called The Lottery, written by Shirley Jackson, and first published in the New Yorker in 1948. This is a tale of how conformity amongst a community can lead to crazy behaviour being justified as normal.
Every year, people in the small American town gather for ‘the lottery,’ an annual ritual that is supposed to ensure a good harvest. As the community gathers, there is tension and nervousness in the room, not the kind of impression you’d get if it was a real life situation where you had a whole community dreaming of the next Euromillion Superdraw.
All the people gather while the lottery organiser Mr Summers prepares the lottery box – a black box filled with white folded papers inside them. One of the papers has a black dot on it. People are grim-faced and apprehensive and in the short film version that’s on youtube, one of the townsfolk turns up late. Tess Hutchinson comes in and is berated by her husband for trying to hide their son in the stable; he tells her this is something that everyone has to take part in.
When the time for the draw comes the families go outside and the head of each family takes a piece of paper from the box. None of them can look at their paper until they all have one. Then they all whisper, waiting to find out who has the black dot. We see that Tess has ‘won’ the lottery; but it’s not something anyone would wish to win. The film ends with her being stoned to death by the rest of the town; in the hope that this will bring a good harvest this year.