Jackson, Shirley (Hardie)

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JACKSON, Shirley (Hardie)

Nationality: American. Born: San Francisco, California, 14 December 1916. Education: Burlingame High School, California; Brighton High School, Rochester, New York; University of Rochester, 1934-36; Syracuse University, New York, 1937-40, B.A. 1940. Family: Married the writer Stanley Edgar Hyman in 1940; two sons and two daughters. Career: Writer. Lived in North Bennington, Vermont, after 1945. Awards: Mystery Writers of America Edgar Allan Poe award, 1961. Died: 8 August 1965.



The Magic of Jackson, edited by Stanley Edgar Hyman. 1966.

The Masterpieces of Shirley Jackson. 1996.

Short Stories

The Lottery; or, The Adventures of James Harris. 1949.

Just an Ordinary Day. 1996.


The Road Through the Wall. 1948; as The Other Side of the Street, 1956.

Hangsaman. 1951.

The Bird's Nest. 1954; as Lizzie, 1957.

The Sundial. 1958.

The Haunting of Hill House. 1959.

We Have Always Lived in the Castle. 1962.


The Lottery, from her own story, in Best Television Plays 1950-1951, edited by William I. Kauffman. 1952.

The Bad Children: A Play in One Act for Bad Children. 1959.


Life among the Savages. 1953.

The Witchcraft of Salem Village (for children). 1956.

Raising Demons. 1957.

Special Delivery: A Useful Book for Brand-New Mothers. 1960; asAnd Baby Makes Three, 1960.

9 Magic Wishes (for children). 1963.

Famous Sally (for children). 1966.

Come Along with Me: Part of a Novel, Sixteen Stories, and Three Lectures, edited by Stanley Edgar Hyman. 1968.


Critical Studies:

Jackson by Lenemaja Friedman, 1975; Private Demons: The Life of Jackson by Judy Oppenheiner, 1988; Shirley Jackson: A Study of the Short Fiction by Joan Wylie Hall, 1994.

* * *

Disdainful of love stories and "junk about gay young married couples," Shirley Jackson produced a variety of short fiction, in modes ranging from the fantastic to the realistic and for magazines as diverse as The New Yorker, Playboy, the Ladies' Home Journal, and the Yale Review. Yet Jackson is so exclusively identified with "The Lottery," her shocking account of a housewife's ritualistic stoning, that few readers can name another of her 100 stories or any of her six novels. Jackson claimed that, except for "The Lottery" itself, her collection The Lottery or, The Adventures of James Harris was "a harmless little book of short stories." The overt violence against Tessie Hutchinson is rare; still, Jackson's stories are seldom "harmless." The implicit critique of society in "The Lottery" becomes an obvious concern of such 1940s' works as "After You, My Dear Alphonse" and "Flower Garden," which expose racism, and the uncollected story "Behold the Child Among His Newborn Blisses," where a doting mother is cruel to another woman's retarded son.

Typically, Jackson portrays a significant threat to at least one character's well-being. As in "The Lottery" Jackson's threatened character is usually a woman. Female protagonists of "The Tooth," "The Beautiful Stranger," "I Know Who I Love," and "A Visit" are tempted by mysterious men to abandon their colorless routine and yield to a dangerous love. Although some critics speculate that these disruptive males are hallucinations of a sexually repressed character, the ballad "James Harris, The Daemon Lover," which forms the epilogue to the 25 stories collected in The Lottery, suggests otherwise. Jackson implies that several of her stories are modern versions of the folktale of a young wife's abduction by the devil; references to James, Jimmy, Jamie, and a Mr. Harris recur throughout the Lottery volume, creating a loose unity among pieces that had first appeared in separate publications.

In "The Daemon Lover" James Harris is a handsome author who deserts his dowdy fiancée Elizabeth. The plot may be indebted to "The Demon Lover" by Elizabeth Bowen, whom Jackson ranked with Katherine Anne Porter as the best contemporary short-story writers. When Jamie Harris leaves the 34-year-old Elizabeth on their wedding day, her "golden house-in-the-country future" is destroyed, and she becomes one of the several Jackson women who despair of trading their lonely city apartments for a loving home.

A happy home life does not protect women from victimization by strangers, neighbors, and even the family dog, as evidenced in "The Witch," "Men with Their Big Shoes," "The Renegade," and other stories. Janet Allison and her husband Robert, an older couple in "The Summer People," have a cottage in the country as well as an apartment in New York; their decision to remain at the lake after Labor Day produces an autumnal variant on the plot of "The Lottery." For no apparent reason the New England village closes ranks, cutting off the Allisons' supplies of food and kerosene as well as their telephone line, and the ending is ominous as the two "ordinary people" huddle against a storm in their fragile home "and waited." Conversely, in "Pillar of Salt" a wife's holiday in New York with her husband culminates in urban disaster and a yearning for her New Hampshire home. Entitled "Vertigo" in draft form, the story traces Margaret's growing horror of the city's dizzying speed and progressive decay. Unable to calm her final hysteria, she stands immobilized on a street corner as she tries to return to the couple's borrowed apartment. Margaret realizes, in a typical Jackson conclusion, that "she was lost," as surely as Lot's pillar-of-salt wife in the Bible. In contrast to Janet Allison and Margaret, some of Jackson's characters are intent on permanently leaving the security of home. Elsa Dayton of "A Day in the Jungle," from the posthumous Come Along with Me collection, angrily walks out on a neglectful husband. Like Louisa Tether, a college-aged daughter who runs away from her family in "Louisa, Please Come Home," she feels independent in new surroundings. Yet both women regret their desperate moves. After a single day of freedom Elsa experiences a "sudden panic" and, in relief, joins her husband for dinner. Louisa is overcome by nostalgia when a former neighbor sees her in another city and insists on taking her home. Ironically, her parents refuse to recognize her, and she reluctantly goes back to her boarding-house room and her assumed identity.

As James Egan has remarked, Jackson's fiction depicts how domestic ideals are "created, nurtured, attacked from various quarters, escaped from, weakened, parodied, and destroyed." The uncollected but often anthologized "One Ordinary Day, with Peanuts" is among Jackson's most unusual treatments of the domestic theme. After describing the kindly John Philip Johnson's long day of doing good (to a nervous single mother and her son, among others), the third-person narrator relates the man's return home to a smiling wife who has spent her day deliberately making people miserable. Mr. Johnson genially offers to "change over tomorrow." Operating from their own secure base, the two alternately improve and sabotage the personal lives of strangers.

Jackson's most positive portrayals of home occur in the humorous stories based on her own family life. During the 1950s she worked most of these into continuous narratives in the fictionalized memoirs Life among the Savages and Raising Demons. Feminist critics have suggested that "The Third Baby's the Easiest," "On Being a Faculty Wife," and other comic sketches have a serious side in their treatment of women's fears and frustrations. The narrator of "Charles," for example, grows increasingly anxious when her son Laurie daily relates the disruptive classroom behavior of a boy named Charles. At a PTA meeting, however, the teacher responds to the narrator's concern by announcing that there is no Charles in the kindergarten and that Laurie has finally adjusted to school. In concluding with the mother's shock of recognition, "Charles" mirrors the final scenes of "The Lottery," "The Daemon Lover," "Pillar of Salt," and several other stories in which a besieged woman suffers a final, wrenching—and sometimes fatal—blow.

—Joan Wylie Hall

See the essay on "The Lottery."

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