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Shirley Jackson Essay Research Paper Life and

Shirley Jackson Essay, Research Paper Life and Work Shirley Jackson was born on December 14, 1919 to Leslie and Geraldine Jackson. Her surroundings were comfortable

Shirley Jackson Essay, Research Paper

Life and Work

Shirley Jackson was born on December 14, 1919 to Leslie and Geraldine Jackson. Her surroundings were comfortable

and friendly. Two years after Shirley was born, her family with her newborn brother moved from San Francisco to

Burlingame, California, about thirty miles away. “According to her mother, Shirley began to compose verse almost as

soon as she could write it” (Friedman, 18). As a child, Shirley was interested in sports and literature. In 1930, a year

before she attended Burlingame High School, Shirley began writing poetry and short stories. Jackson enrolled in the

liberal arts program at the University of Rochester in 1934. But after periods of unhappiness and questioning the loyalty

of her friends, she withdrew from the university. For the next year Shirley worked night and day on her writing. In

doing so she established work habits, which she maintained for the rest of her life. After a year of becoming

conscientious and disciplined writer, Jackson thought she better return to college for more schooling. In 1937, she

entered Syracuse University. At first she was in the School of Journalism, but then she decided to transfer to the English

department. For the next two years, while at Syracuse, Shirley published, fifteen pieces in campus magazines and

became fiction editor of “The Syracusan”, a campus humor magazine. When her position as fiction editor was

eliminated, she and fellow classmate Stanley Edgar Hyman began to plan a magazine of literary quality, one that the

English Club finally agreed to sponsor. (Friedman, 21) In 1939, the first edition of “The Spectre” was published.

Although the magazine became popular, the English department didn’t like the biting editorials and critical essays. But

inspite of the department’s constant watch over the magazine, Leonard Brown, a modern literature teacher, backed the

students and the publication. Later, Jackson was always to refer to Brown as her mentor; and in 1959 she dedicated her

novel “The Haunting of Hill House” to him.(Oppenheimer, 45) But in the summer of 1940, since Jackson and Hyman

were graduating, it was announced the “The Spectre” had been discontinued. “Apparently hard feelings on the part of

school authorities lasted for quite some time and may have been one of the reasons why neither Miss Jackson, even after

becoming a successful author, nor Mr. Hyman, a known critic, was named as a recipient of the Arents Pioneer Medal

for outstanding achievement, the highest honor granted by the university. Not until the year of her death in

1965-twenty-five years later- was the medal finally awarded to her-in absentia, since she was unable to attend the

ceremony.”(Friedman, 26)

In 1940, after their graduation Hyman and Jackson, who had a relationship, were married. While living in Vermont,

Jackson continued to write. One of her earliest times in Vermont later became material for her first book about the

family, “Life Among the Savages.” Between 1945 and 1947, Jackson was occupied with her first novel, “The Road

Through the Wall.” But it was in 1948 that her greatest success was achieved. The publication of the short story, “The

Lottery”, brought fame, as well as letters from readers all over the country. But more often there were abusive letters

from people who did not understand her motives or what she was trying to do. A year later a book entitled, “The

Lottery”, was published containing an assortment of short stories including “The Lottery.” The critics by that time, had

decided that Shirely Jackson was a writer of much talent and uniqueness. Even though Jackson was raising four

children while her husband went to work, she still found time to write. Sometimes when a story idea would come to

her, she would bolt off to her typewriter. Instead of fighting writing, as other writers do; she found the opposite; that

writing was relaxing.

In 1949, the Hymans moved to Westport, Connecticut. As usual she worked hard. Six of her stories were published in

various magazines including “The New Mexico Quarterly Review”, “Collier’s”, and “The Reader’s Digest.” A year later

her second novel, “Hangsaman” was ready for publication. Critics, a “Time” magazine staffer and the writer of “The

Yale Review”, regarded this book as one of the outstanding books of the year. (Friedman, 29)

During the 1950s, while her children were growing up, Jackson published at least forty-four short stories, six articles;

two book-length family chronicles; one children’s nonfiction book; and four novels.

In 1952, besides publishing eleven short stories in various magazines, “The Lottery” was adapted for television. A year

later “Life Among the Savages” was published, while “The Lottery was adapted into play form. The play, which was

one-act, was the most performed play for the next several years in little theater and high school groups. (Friedman, 31)

Two years later, in 1954, the publication of her novel “The Bird’s Nest” received very good reviews. “Both

‘Hangsaman’ and ‘The Bird’s Nest’ are indications of her keen interest in the workings of the mind, and it may have

been during this period that she herself first suffered moments of anxiety that became more intense as the years

progressed.” (Oppenheimer, 60) Probably one of Miss Jackson’s more pleasant tasks was the writing of “The

Witchcraft of Salem Village”, a nonfiction Landmark book designed for the twelve-to fourteen-year-old reader,

published in 1956. She had been asked to write the nonfiction book since her publicity after “The Lottery” indicated that

she had witchlike traits, and she jokingly proclaimed herself the only practicing witch in New England. Jackson’s

second family chronicle, “Raising Demons” was published in 1957. During 1958 she wrote the children’s play “The

Bad Children” and a novel called “The Sundial”. During the summer when there were no speaking engagements, Miss

Jackson enjoyed attending the races at Saratoga; otherwise, she remained at home where she was happiest and felt the

safest. A year later Jackson had significant literary success with the publication of her notable “ghost story”, “The

Haunting of Hill House”, which was dedicated to her mentor Leonard Brown. “Hill House” having received excellent

reviews, went through several printings and was purchased by “The Reader’s Digest” for its condensed books. Four

years later, under the title “The Haunting”, it became a successful movie. Through the years, Miss Jackson had gained a

great deal of weight. She had asthma and later, arthritis in the ends of her fingers. Worse yet, she had begun to suffer

from attacks of anxiety. “Always a nervous and rather tense person, she was now under the care of a psychiatrist. But

even during the worst periods, she never stopped working; she used her typewriter as therapy-to write pages and pages

of anything she pleased to unburden herself of depression into which she sank” (Friedman, 36). In 1962, “We Have

Always Lived in the Castle”, a novel she started three years earlier, was finished. It soon made the best-seller list, and

“Time” magazine named it one of the ten best novels of the year. “Later, in 1965, daily living was now becoming more

bearable for Jackson. Her anxieties were disappearing and her sessions with the psychiatrist were tapering off. The sad

fact was that, though the mind was well again, the body was not. On the afternoon of August 8, 1965, Shirley Jackson

went upstairs to take her usual nap. However, this time, Jackson did not awake.” (Friedman, 40) In 1966, Jackson’s

husband, Stanley Edgar Hyman edited an anthology, “The Magic of Shirley Jackson containing eleven short stories and

three complete books. Jackson’s last novel, “Come Along With Me”, which she was working on when she died, was to

be quite different from any of her other novels. Although “Come Along With Me” includes supernatural elements, they

are treated humorously. Since this novel was published in 1968, three years after Jackson passed away, Mr. Hyman

again edited the completed sections, along with several uncollected short stories.

Primary Works

Shirley Jackson has been a very prolific author. In all, Jackson has published, three articles, four works of non-fiction

prose, two family books, seven novels, one play, one work of poetry, and more than fifty-five short stories. Jackson’s

primary works which are most notable is the short story “The Lottery”(1948), her two family books, “Life Among the

Savages” (1953) and “Raising Demons”(1957), a non-fiction prose “Witchcraft in Salem Village”(1956), and her seven

novels, “Road Through the Wall” (1948), “Hangsaman”(1951) “The Bird’s Nest” (1954), “The Sundial” (1958),”The

Haunting of Hill House”(1959), and “We Have Always Lived in a Castle” (1962). In Jackson’s first novel, “The Road

through the Wall”(1948), she wrote of a snobbish neighborhood in suburban San Francisco and sketched its moral

collapse as a result of prejudice and murder. This work affirmed Jackson’s loathing of intolerance and bigotry. Her

short story, “The Lottery”, also published in 1948 was about a town’s tradition of sacrificing a human so there would be

a good harvest. “The Hangsaman”(1951), her second novel, tells the story of a seventeen-year-old Natalie Waite

mercifully escaping her father’s oppression by leaving home to attend college. She does not have the social skills to

adjust to the uninhibited environment, however, and so she invents Tony, an imaginary female friend. Tony soon

becomes more frightening than friendly, and in a climactic scene, Natalie is forced to choose between reality and her

imaginary friend. “Life Among the Savages”(1953) and “Raising Demons”(1957) are both about family life in a small

New England town, which is where Shirley Jackson lived with her husband and children until her death last year.

Jackson’s next novel, “The Bird’s Nest” (1954), is a psychological study based on a true case of multiple personality.

Jackson’s protagonist, Elizabeth Richmond, a somber, bland woman who is convinced she is responsible for her

mother’s death, invents alternate personas as a result of being unable to deal with guilt. With the help of a psychiatrist

and an eccentric aunt, Elizabeth gradually regains control of her psyche. The novel is generally regarded as Jackson’s

wittiest novel since it was lauded for its comic yet compassionate treatment of mental disorder. In 1956, Jackson’s

non-fiction prose, “The Witchcraft of Salem Village”, was published. It’s a simple, chilling account of the witchcraft

trials of 1692 and 93′ when, because of testimony given by a group of little girls, twenty persons were executed as

witches and others died in jail. “The Sundial”, published in 1958, is an apocalyptic and satirical novel that centers upon

eleven boorish people who believe that the end of the world is near. Seeking sanctuary in a sprawling gothic estate, they

burn the books in the library, irrationally stock the shelves with canned olives and galoshes, play cards, and bicker

endlessly. At the end of the novel, the group is still waiting for Armageddon. A gothic manor again plays a crucial role

in “The Haunting of Hill House”(1959). This work concerns an experimental psychic study held at Hill House, an eerie

edifice that is presumed to be haunted. Research participants include Eleanor Vance, a timid, repressed woman with

astonishing psychic powers. The other people brought to Hill House are confident and self-centered and soon alienate

Eleanor form the only environment in which she was ever comfortable. Jackson’s last novel, “We Have Always Lived

in the Castle”(1962) combines many of her most vital concerns-psychology, isolation, and evil-with a curiosity in black

magic. “We Have Always Lived in the Castle” is the story of two sisters victimized by their small New England village

because of the unsolved mass murder of their family. Although neighbors believe the murder was committed by

Constance, the older sister, Constance knows that her psychopathic younger sister Merricat poisoned the family by

putting arsenic in the sugar bowl. Throughout the story there is much struggle with the villagers and their cousin

Charles, which results in Merricat burning down their mansion in order to kill Charles, but in the end the sisters stay

together. Here Jackson questions the traditional definition of normality, suggesting that the villagers’ violence is deviant

behavior, while Merrricat’s actions are prompted by a psychological disturbance that should evoke sympathy and

understanding. “We Have Always Lived in the Castle remains Jackson’s most critically acclaimed novel.

Secondary Criticism

Over the years many critics have wrote articles on Shirley Jackson’s numerous work. Many critics had much to say

about Jackson’s most famous short story, “The Lottery”. Her insights and observations about man and society are

disturbing; and in the case of “The Lottery,” they are shocking. “The themes themselves are not new: evil cloaked in

seeming good; prejudice and hypocrisy; loneliness and frustration; psychological studies of minds that have slipped the

bonds of reality” (Friedman, 44) Literary critic, Elizabeth Janeway wrote that, ” ‘The Lottery’ makes its effect without

having to state a moral about humanity’s need to deflect the knowledge of its own death on a victim. That uneasy

consciousness is waked in the reader himself by the impact of the story. Miss Jackson’s great gift is not to create a

world of fantasy and terror, but rather to discover the existence of the grotesque in the ordinary world. (Janeway, 58)

Fritz Oehlschlaeger, a literary critic, stated that, “a conflict between male authority and female resistance is subtly evident

throughout “The Lottery.” Early in the story, the boys make a ‘great pile of stones in one corner of the square,” while

the girls stand aside “talking among themselves, looking over their shoulders at the boys.” (259) Critic Peter Kosenko

explains that Jackson distinguishes male and female authority early in the story by showing how the children listen to

their father’s orders, but not their mother’s: (225) “Soon the women…began to call their children…Bobby Martin

ducked under his mother’s grasping hand and ran, laughing, back to the pile of stones. His father spoke up sharply, and

Bobby came quickly and took his place between his father and his eldest brother”(Lottery, 292). Jackson gives very

plain, solid-sounding names to her characters: Adams, Warner, Dunbar, Martin, Hutchinson, etc. “The name Mr.

Summers is particularly suitable for sunny, jovial Joe Summers; it emphasizes the surface tone of the piece and

underscores the ultimate irony. Mr. Graves-the postmaster and the assistant to Mr. Summers in the administration of the

lottery-has a name that might well signify the tragic undercurrent, which does not become meaningful until the end of the

story” (Friedman, 64) Oehlschlaeger explains his meaning behind the name Hutchinson. “The name of Jackson’s victim

links her to Anne Hutchinson, whose Antinomian beliefs, found to be heretical by the Puritan hierarchy, resulted in her

banishment from Massachusetts in 1638. While Tessie Hutchinson is no spiritual rebel, to be sure, Jackson’s allusion to

Anne Hutchinson reinforces her suggestions of a rebellion lurking within the women of her imaginary village”(261)

Helen E. Nebeker explains that why traditions of men in “The Lottery” must be examined more closely:

“Until enough men are touched strongly enough by the horror of their ritualistic, irrational actions to reject the

long-perverted ritual, to destroy the box completely-or to make, if necessary, a new one reflective of their conditions and

needs of life-man will never free himself from his primitive nature and is ultimately doomed. Miss Jackson does not

offer us much hope-they only talk of giving up the lottery in the north village….(107)

The second work of Jackson that most literary critics comment on is her novel “We Have Always Lived in a Castle”.

Literary critic, Granville Hicks wrote that, “We Have Always Lived in a Castle” showed Jackson at her most skillful,

making the not quite credible as real as this typewriter of mine. It also suggests, perhaps a little more ruefully than was

customary with Miss Jackson, some desperate truths about mankind”(31). “Miss Jackson was certainly not the first

writer to assert that there is evil in everybody, but what might be merely a platitude becomes a great truth because of the

depth and consistency of her own feeling about life and because she was so extraordinarily successful in making her

readers feel what she felt. She plunges the reader into a world of her creating and leaves him wondering about what he

has always believed to be the real world”(32). Geoffrey Wolff points out that “the secret of her art in this novel is her

‘comfort’ in describing ‘those things that happen’. The madness is so tangled with the ordinary that we cannot shrug it

away or hide from it. The blatant symbols-poison, the garden, the collective will of the community, the inherited house

cleaned by fire-are not things and ideas that stand for something other than themselves. Rather they are the life of the

novel. In Freud’s lexicon, the dream, or nightmare, is an allegory of hidden motives. In Miss Jackson’s novel, the

nightmare lives on the surface, so terrifying because it seems so ordinary.”(18) Jackson’s first novel, “The Road

Through the Wall”(1948), “chronicles the collapse of a small community due to its own inner demonic contradictions.

By focusing upon a whole neighborhood, rather than upon a single violated protagonist as in her other novels, the novel

creates an effective metaphor or microcosm for the tensions inherent in the culture in the postwar period. Moreover,

whether the protagonist is individual or collective, the novel adumbrates and begins exploration of one of Jackson’s

primary concerns throughout her career: the dark incomprehensible spot or stain upon the human soul and our

continuing blindness and, hence, vulnerability to it. Jackson’s fiction refuses to compromise with the glib psychologies

of our therapeutic age”(Woodruff, 155). Literary critic Charlotte Jackson explains how successfully Jackson wrote

non-fiction prose in her work, “Witchcraft of Salem Village”. “There is good introductory background and though the

story’s subject is by nature horrifying the book does not play on the emotions. It ends on the positive note that public

reaction to the obviously revengeful motives of some of the witnesses made these the last witchcraft trials in the New

World and did much to kill belief in witchcraft generally”(103). In “Life Among the Savages”(1953) and “Raising

Demons”(1957), “the horror is not absent; it is merely held at bay, as the titles themselves forcefully hint. If we pour in

energy enough, these books suggest, we can hold off entropy for a while. Her two ‘fictionalized’ accounts of

…domestic life convey a happiness that could not have been entirely invented.” (Kittredge, 14)

Jackson’s themes usually always come back to the evil found in ordinary things. “That the familiar can become alien,

that the level flow of existence can warp in the battling of an eye, was the theme to which she most often returned. She

liked characters whose minds seemed to be untidy and a touch hysterical, but whose fanatic grasp of reality is in some

inexplicable way deeper than we can understand. The motivations she preferred to study were never those of reason nor

yet of circumstances nor of passion-but of some dark quality in a psychological weather when the glass is falling and the

wind beginning to wrinkle”(Davenport, 4). Like her theme, Jackson usually uses the same gender, as her main

character, in her novels also. Lynette Carpenter explains that “In fiction, she writes most often about women. The

typical Jackson protagonist is a lonely young woman struggling toward maturity. She is a social misfit, not beautiful

enough, charming enough, or articulate enough to get along ill with other people, too introverted and awkward. In

short, she does not fit any of the feminine stereotypes available to her”(146). In the end, very few of her protagonists

achieve much of a victory over oppression. Indeed most of Jackson’s protagonists are emotionally violated and must

struggle desperately to overcome their estrangement and dislocation, and most of them fail. The novel,

“Hangsaman”(1951), was the first of her psychological novels. She had dealt with problems of the mind in her short

stories, but this novel was her first sustained study of mental aberration, in this case schizophrenia. “Miss Jackson’s

love of mystery and ambiguity is evident in this novel, for the reader receives only piecemeal information as Natalie see

it. There are gaps, therefore, in his knowledge. Suspense builds, and the mystery deepens with the appearance of Tony;

but, even by the end of the novel, there is confusion as to who Tony is and as to what has actually taken place. Only at

the end of the narrative does the reader discover that Tony is and has been a product of Natalie’s imagination or,

technically, another aspect of Natalie’s self” (Friedman, 86). In Jackson’s last three novels, “The Sundial”(1958), “The

Haunting of Hill House”(1959), and “We Have Always Lived in a Castle”(1962), “the gothic house is a prominent

feature. It serves not just as the focus of action or as atmosphere, but as a force or influence upon character or a

reflection of character… The house not only reflects the insanities of its occupants, but serves as a fitting microcosm of

the madnesses of the world”(Park, 22). In “The Sundial”, John G. Park explains that “it is a nicely woven novel, where

imagery and technique work together well. Through the use of various motifs, such as the house imagery, references to

time, Jackson is able to juxtapose character, theme, and incident in startling and ironic ways. As in her other work,

Jackson employs a deft kind of cinematic focusing, creating a simultaneity of effect and capturing well a roomful of

conversation. The novel satirizes a human condition where gullibility, cupidity, and culpability reign virtually

unrestrained by moral principle and create a community of the survival of the worst. The satire is not without rich

humor”(21). Shirley Jackson’s fiction is filled with lonely, desperate women who reflect the disintegrations of modern

life. The is seen quite clearly in Elizabeth Richmond, the disintegrating protagonist of “The Bird’s Nest”(1954). “While

Jackson was a lifelong student of mental illness, and all of her novels explore some aspect of the inner life, “The Bird’s

Nest” is doubtless her most overtly psychological novel. She demonstrates that magical thinking and magical fantasies

by themselves are not only useless but dangerous; to bring happiness, the real magic of the human personality must be

purposefully grasped and wielded with determination”(Kittredge, 4) Jackson in her 1951 novel, “The Haunting of Hill

House”, gives evil force not just reality, but personality and purpose. “The supernatural in this novel is neither product

nor facet of the main character’s mind; it is outside her, and independently real. It does not occupy her; rather, it lures

and seduces her away from the pains and problems of the real world into a ghostly existence as another haunting spirit.

In “Haunting”, the evil is developed to the point of winning the conflict; there is no happy ending for the heroine,

because her character is too weak for the battle. She does not choose madness, but is overwhelmed by it.” (Kittredge,

15). Throughout all her work, critics seem to have respected Shirley Jackson as an American novelist, short story

writer, and nonfiction writer. Mary Kittredge writes that “in all the aspects of her life,…..Jackson fought whatever

obstacles she encountered at least to a draw. Her success in the horror genre, like her successful domestic comedy, was

the result of an exquisitely sensitive double vision that would have seemed an affliction to a less determined or talented

writer. She saw the magic in the mundane, and the evil behind the ordinary. She saw that the line between the cruel and

the comedic is sometimes vanishingly narrow”(12). As Lenemaja Friedman points out Jackson’s greatest strengths are

in the “expert handling of humor, mystery, ambiguity, and suspense. Her wit and imagination have created off-beat and

original stories. Her characters are authentic, if often strange, people; and, as the critics point out, her prose style is

excellent. She chooses a simple, unadorned direct, clear manner of speaking to her reader. Her lines flow evenly,

smoothly, and have a distinct rhythm. Despite the lack of critical attention, her books continue to be popular with those

people who are sensitive, imaginative, and fun-loving; and perhaps in the long run, that popularity will be what

counts”(161).

Carpenter, Lynette. “Domestic Comedy, Black Comedy, and Real Life: Shirley Jackson, a Woman Writer.” Faith of a

Woman Writer. Greenwood Press, 1988, p. 146.

Davenport, Guy. “Dark Psychological Weather.” The New York Times Book Review. 15 September 1968, p. 4.

Friedman, Lenemaja. Shirley Jackson. Twayne Publishers: Boston, 1975, p. 18, 21, 26, 29, 31, 36, 40, 44, 64, 86,

161.

Hicks, Granville. “The Nightmare in Reality.” Saturday Review, No. 38. 17 September 1966, p. 31.

Jackson, Charlotte. “Mrs. Jackson Creates of Shocking Facts a Fascinating Suspense Story.” Atlanic Magazine.

December 1956, p. 103.

Jackson, Shirley. “The Lottery.” The New Yorker. 28 June 1948. p. 292.

Janeway, Elizabeth. “The Grotesque Around Us,” The New York Times Book Review. 9 October 1966. p. 58.

Kittredge, Mary. “The Other Side of Magic: A Few Remarks About Shirley Jackson.” Discovering Modern Horror

Fiction. Starmont House, New York, 1985. p. 4, 12, 14, 15.

Kosenko, Peter. “A Marxist/Feminist Reading of Shirley Jackson’s ‘The Lottery’ .” The New Orleans Review. Spring

1985. p. 225.

Nebeker, Helen. ” ‘The Lottery’: Symbolic Tour de France,” American Literature: Duke University, North Carolina,

1974. p. 107.

Oehlshlaeger, Fritz. “The Stoning of Mistress Hutchinson: Meaning of Context in ‘The Lottery’.” Essays in Literature.

No. 2, Fall, 1988. p. 259, 261.

Oppenheimer, Judy. Private Demons: The Life of Shirley Jackson. G.P. Putnam’s Sons: New York, 1988. p. 45, 60.

Park, John G. “Waiting for the End: Shirley jackson’s ‘The Sundial’.” Critique: Studies in Modern Fiction, No. 3.,

1978. p. 21, 22.

Wolff, Geoffrey. “Shirley Jackson’s ‘Magic Style’.” The New Leader. No. 17. 9 September 1968. p. 18.

Woodruff, Stuart. “The Real Horror Elsewhere: Shirley Jackson’s Last Novel.” Southwest Review. Spring, 1967. p.

155.

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