What is it about?

It gives an analysis of two short stories through the lens of a Marxist critique of capitalism. The Lottery of Karma by Chanthi Deuanesavanh and Lottery by Catherine Lim are two short stories by S.E.A. awardees set in Southeast Asian contexts. Common to both stories is the role of gambling or ‘games of chance’ in the character’s lives — but more specifically, it is how a lack of fulfillment in each character’s lives leads to gambling which is the central focus of these tales. Using Marxist themes, this paper discusses the role local lotteries have in constructing the inner turmoil of each story’s character. Of special interest here is that the settings of these stories, Singapore and Laos, only relatively recently have experienced the type of economic development which was the original target of the Marxist critique. And although lotteries and gambling are known the world over, the Southeast Asian context adds a unique flavor, with cultural practices and superstitions used for obtaining lucky numbers appearing in both stories. Tying together the impact of capitalism and games of chance on individuals from the working class, this paper discusses how these contribute to a sense of alienation, a feeling which she sketches in terms of “powerlessness,” “meaninglessness,” “normlessness” and “estrangement.” Providing a structured analysis, it walks readers through how each author describes the lives and thoughts of the lottery players. Important terminology here are the roles of laborers, capitalists, and consumers. Within the article, each role acts as a context of discussion on how capitalistic systems drive particular behaviors, but also how they are linked to feelings of alienation.

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Why is it important?

These two authors employ literary art to present a complex reality of the game of chance under capitalism in two countries with considerably different socioeconomic conditions. However, the protagonists of the respective stories face the exact same oppression. In these circumstances, the protagonists are subject to alienation, regardless of whether they perform as laborers, capitalists, or consumers. As laborers, they work for the sake of money. As capitalists, they invest money in the game of chance, hoping for a positive return. To find winning numbers, they employ two strategies, holding superstition beliefs and praying to supernatural beings. As consumers, these two protagonists are the repressed and the seduced, but not simultaneously. Under these dominant social schemes, the protagonists are not the masters of their own actions, but are separated from themselves, the products of their labor, the products of their consumption, other beings, and the worlds in which they live. In sum, this condition is a difficult predicament for the two protagonists.


I enjoyed writing these paper and learned a lot from it. I find that ultimately, the realities presented in the two stories are considered microcosms of real-world situation. Thus, they provide insight into the current dehumanizing of society while at the same time suggesting that to rid ourselves of this social ill, we should recognize the phenomenon of alienation and learn to make sense of our own lives.

Intira Charuchinda
Phranakhon Rajabhat University

Read the Original

This page is a summary of: Alienation in the Game of Chance Under Capitalism, Manusya Journal of Humanities, June 2022, Brill,
DOI: 10.1163/26659077-24030002.
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