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 Years 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 newspapers. 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 Birds 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. Jacksons 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 th 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. Jacksons reoccurring themes of evil, violence, and victimization are present in almost all of her gothic and horrific writings. Evil in Jacksons 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 towns annual lottery. She has done nothing wrong except for drawing the wrong piece of paper.
The towns 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 cant hear anything and Im 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 characters 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. Jacksons novel The Birds Nest is often considered to be a twentieth century play on evil and morality (Commire, page 153). Not all the evils presented in Jacksons stories or novels were natural; some took on the evil of the supernatural.
Jacksons 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 Jacksons 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. Jacksons shortest story, Janice, shows violence against ones 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 Jacksons 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 Jacksons 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 Jacksons novels and short stories violence is often a reoccurring theme, but, with violence there is always a victim. Commire once stated on Jacksons theme of victimization In Jacksons novels everyone plays the victim (Commire, page 153). Victimization is part of nearly all of Jacksons 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 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 Jacksons novel The Birds Nest is based on true case about a mental patient. The main character Elizabeth feels totally responsible for her mothers death and ends up being a victim of her own psyche. In Jacksons 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 Jacksons 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 Jacksons 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). Jacksons talent is rare. As Maz zeno tries to explain Jacksons 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) Jacksons writing style was unique. The stories that Jackson could weave left questions of ones 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 symbol for our distressing world of the concentration camp and The Bomb. She was always proud that the union of South 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 goth ism.
Sometimes not having a definite explanation is half the fun of trying to figure it out.