Common Threads In Shirley Jackson Essay, Research Paper
Shirley Jackson was born in San Francisco, California
on December 14, 1916. Jackson began writing in journals at a
very young age. She took an interest in the supernatural at as a
child as this 1933 New Year?s Resolution shows; ?seek out the
good in others rather than explore the evil? (Ragland). Jackson
started college at the University of Rochester. She dropped out
of school, and transferred to Syracuse University, in the fall.
At Syracuse University, she met her husband Stanley Edgar Hyman.
After graduation Jackson and Hyman moved to North Bennington,
Vermont. Jackson and Hyman had four children; two boys and two
girls. Hyman began teaching classes at the local college, while
Jackson was busily writing stories for various magazines and
Shirley Jackson was one of the most notorious American
cryptic writers of the twentieth century. Jackson could weave a
story using themes of evil, violence, and victimization and make
it all seem somehow normal. It was with these themes that
Jackson wrote such shocking tales as The Lottery, The Haunting of
Hill House, The Hangsaman, Louisa, Please Come Home, and The
Bird?s Nest. Not only did Jackson have the ability to write of
terror but of the trial and tribulations of everyday life. She
wrote Life Among the Savages and Raising Demons about her daily
life with her children. Jackson?s most famed publication was and
today still is The Lottery. It was neither her first nor her
last published story, but certainly the one that gave her a name.
The Lottery first appeared in The New Yorker on June 28, 1948.
The Lottery caused a lot of commotion for both Jackson and The
New Yorker. This was partly due to the fact that Jackson never
gave an explanation or reasoning behind the story. Jackson
herself felt the story needed no explanation ?..it was just a
story I wrote…? (Jackson, page 212). Although The Lottery
gave Jackson a name it was not the only story to become famous.
Many of her other books and stories became best sellers as well.
Jackson?s reoccurring themes of evil, violence, and victimization
are present in almost all of her gothic and horrific writings.
Evil in Jackson?s works takes on many forms. In The
Lottery, the evil is ?destroyed? through the lottery. Tessie
Hutchinson is the main character. She is killed for the town?s
annual lottery. She has done nothing wrong except for drawing
the wrong piece of paper. The town?s people stone her to death;
no one tries to save her or give any help to keep her from being
stoned. The so called heart of The Lottery has been called a
scapegoat which goes back to ancient times of banishing the evil
of all the people by destroying one (Magill, page 1406). Another
evil was expressed in the short story I Know Who I Love. In this
story the main character Catharine despises her father very much.
She often talks badly about him. ?My poor father can?t hear
anything and I?m happy about it? was the line Catharine used to
talk of her father being dead (Jackson, page 52). This may not
be as a severe evil as in The Lottery but even so it was evil.
In the short story The Beautiful Stranger, Margaret the main
character?s husband does not return from a business trip instead
an imposter returns. She lives and acts as if this man is her
husband. This is an example of moral evil. Jackson?s novel The
Bird?s Nest is often considered to be a twentieth century play on
evil and morality (Commire, page 153). Not all the evils
presented in Jackson?s stories or novels were natural; some took
on the evil of the supernatural. Jackson?s novel the Haunting of
Hill House is a basis for these types of evils. This novel
talks of poltergeists and other evils of the supernatural. In
the short story The Summer People the evil that is presented is
not at first easily recognizable. In this story a retired couple
(Mr. and Mrs. Allison) stay at a summer cottage. This time they
decide to stay after Labor Day. After they make this decision
everything that can go wrong does. First, the Allison?s cannot
get any kerosene for the cottage. Next, their car had been
tampered with and could not be used. Soon after that their phone
lines were cut. As evening approached an awful storm came up.
It appeared that everything was out to get this good loving
couple. This was a typical portrayal of good verses evil.
Violence is often portrayed in Jackson?s stories. Many of
her gothic stories contain some form of violence. In the short
story called The Lottery the violence that is portrayed is that
of murder. This is not just a one time violent act; it is a
ritual, repeated yearly. Jackson?s shortest story, Janice, shows
violence against one?s self. Janice is the main character who
tries to kill herself. Her suicide attempt fails, but leaves her
an interesting story to tell her acquaintances. In Jackson?s
short story The Beautiful Stranger, Margaret, the wife of John,
becomes very happy at the thought of her missing husband being
violently injured or killed. This violence is not acted out like
in The Lottery or Janice, but it is still a portrayal of
violence. In the short story The Little House the violence is
questionable . The violence is questionable because there is a
man accused of murdering Elizabeth?s aunt, but it is never
proven. In Jackson?s story We Have Always Lived in a Castle,
much violence is committed. The two sisters are accused of
killing their parents. The younger sister tries to kill a cousin
because he is to inherit the family fortune. In this story
Jackson leads the reader to believe that violence is a deviant
behavior (Discovering Authors, page 3). In Jackson?s novels and
short stories violence is often a reoccurring theme, but, with
violence there is always a victim.
Commire once stated on Jackson?s theme of victimization ?In
Jackson?s novels everyone plays the victim? (Commire, page 153).
Victimization is part of nearly all of Jackson?s stories and
novels. In short stories and novels nothing is presented to help
give the victim or the victimizer a healthy personality. In the
story Hangsaman Natalie could be a victim of herself due to her
questionably imaginary friend Tony. Throughout this story it is
never clearly stated whether Tony is a real person or just a
figment of Natalie?s imagination. Since Jackson writes with such
incongruities that what appears to be in Hangsaman could be the
exact opposite, but since Jackson rarely spoke of her life or the
life and ideas of her fiction the question of Natalie victimizing
herself or really having a friend will never be answered
(Discovering Authors, page 2). In Jackson?s novel The Bird?s
Nest is based on true case about a mental patient. The main
character Elizabeth feels totally responsible for her mother?s
death and ends up being a victim of her own psyche. In Jackson?s
story We Have Always Lived in a Castle, two sisters are
victimized by a New England town because of the unsolved mass
murder of their parents. The older sister is victimized even
more because the town believes that she (of the two sisters)
killed her parents. Victimization was also presented in the
short story of The Lottery. Tessie is the victim of the lottery.
Since she is chosen as the ?winner? she loses her rights, her
family, her friends, and in the end her life (Jackson, page 225).
In the end of nearly all of Jackson?s stories the victim loses.
Victimization, evil, and violence all helped to play a role
in shaping the gothic tales that only Shirley Jackson could
weave. Jackson could weave tale of such terror and horror that
it would leave questions of morals but, yet she could turn around
and make everyday life something to laugh at. Due to the
diversity of her writing styles Jackson many times was not given
the proper critical attention. The attention she did receive
gave her great recognition. As Fuller stated on Jackson?s novel
The Haunting of Hill House ?Shirley Jackson proves again that she
is the finest master currently practicing in the genre of the
cryptic, haunted tale? (Discovering Authors, Fuller, page 4).
Jackson was not only critically acclaimed for her gothic stories
but also for her humorous real life tales. As Orville Prescott
wrote on Life Among the Savages ?..until I laughed so much the
tears came to my eyes and I had to stop? (Discovering Authors,
page 4). Jackson?s talent is rare. As Mazzeno tries to explain
Jackson?s captivation of the reader; ?Jackson is able to keep
the reader off guard by making use of an objective, third-person
narrative style in which details are presented but no judgements
are made? (Master Plots II, page 1408). Jackson had a talent
that will be missed by her old and new fans.
Shirley Jackson died in 1965. She began to suffer from
severe mental and health problems. Part of this was most likely
brought on by the hostility that the people of her hometown
North Bennington felt toward her, since she admitted that they
were the archetypes of her most famed story The Lottery.
(Discovering Authors, page 3) Jackson?s writing style was unique.
The stories that Jackson could weave left questions of one?s
self. Stanley Edgar Hyman once stated:
Her fierce visions of disassociation?s and madness of
alienation and withdrawal, of cruelty and terror,have
been taken to be personal, even neurotic, fantasies.
Quite the reverse: They are sensitive and faithful
anatomy of our times, fitting symbolfor our
distressing world of the concentration campand The
Bomb. She was always proud that the union ofSouth
Africa banned The Lottery, and she felt that they at
least, understood the story (Magill).
This is perhaps the only explanation of why Jackson wrote with
such gothism. Sometimes not having a definite explanation is
half the fun of trying to figure it out.