Common Threads In Shirley Jackson Essay Research

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

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 ? 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.