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When "The Lottery" first appeared in the New Yorker in 1948, the magazine did not identify any of its pieces as fact or fiction. There was, perhaps predictably, a certain amount of correspondence which asked indignantly where in America such atrocities were taking place. Other people, finding another way to miss the point, realized that the story was fiction but wondered what was being satirized in it. After all, small American towns do not hold lotteries for the purpose of stoning their inhabitants to death. Why bother to condemn a practice that does not exist?

This criticism demonstrates that "The Lottery" really must be read allegorically for it to make sense. Some critics have tried to read it as an extended metaphor for a particular event, such as the Holocaust, which would have been fresh in many readers' minds in 1948. However, there is no need to select a particular occurrence in history for which the story is an allegory , since it captures certain human tendencies and practices that...

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