Shirley Jackson

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Shirley Jackson's stories and books arose out of the complex, sad, and joyous magic of her life. Often her stories were based on her own family or strange little customary romances, well suited for the magazines she wrote for. Jackson's restrictive upbringing created a struggle within her to both fulfill and deny the ways of her mother to whom appearance and social acceptance was all important. She was an odd, plain girl rejecting the gracious country-club lifestyle of her family, preferring to keep to herself for most of her life.

Born on the 14th of December, 1916 in San Francisco, CA, Shirley Jackson struggled throughout her life with a conflict between her individuality and society's requirement that she adhere to its norms and standards. She saw a second level of human nature, an inner identity lurking beneath the one which outwardly conforms within society's expectations. She did not feel completely comfortable in the society around her, preferring to sit in her room and write poetry rather than play with the other children in her neighborhood (Oppenheimer 16)

Her family moved to Rochester, NY in 1933. Jackson graduated with a BA in English from Syracuse University and in 1940 she married Stanley Edgar Hyman. They moved to a secluded shack in New Hampshire where both focused on their writing. In 1945 they moved to North Bennington, Vermont where she taught at Bennington College. The mother of four children, her life was as much baking cupcakes as making up stories. She was a loving and "good" but quirky mother, although not a tidy one, often sending the kids to school in dirty clothes and uncombed hair.

Shirley Jackson was a mom who cooked, washed, kept the hectic schedule of Little League and music lessons, yet wrote in an age when moms didn't work "regular jobs," let alone do something as odd as write. She was a woman who lived in a small town in Vermont, but was always an outsider.

Shirley Jackson was a large messy woman given to wearing red and purple, wore no makeup and pulled her stringy hair back with rubber bands. She and her husband argued, smoked, drank to excess, and took prescription drugs – uppers and downers on a daily basis. Jackson's physical and mental ailments finally got to a point where she was unable to go into the town of Bennington for three months. She sought help through psychotherapy and eventually found the strength to fight her fears, and after a lot of struggling, she survived to begin the novel, "Come Along With Me". It reflected the newer, lighter world that Jackson had created as a result of her psychotherapy. The story's main character, Angela Motorman, was the same age as Shirley Jackson (44) and her size (heavy). The character dabbled in the supernatural with her psychic ability, an ability Jackson always claimed and others acknowledged. The story moves along with energy, with and triumphal air, but was never finished. As her mental health improved, her physical health deteriorated.

In the short stories, "The Lottery", and "We Have Always Lived In The Castle" (which was one of her most brilliant works), it is obvious how she liked to write about fear. In a letter to poet Howard Nemerov, she wrote: "I have always loved to use fear, to take it and comprehend it and make it work and consolidate a situation where I was afraid and take it whole and work from these. I delight in what I fear. It is not about tow women, it is about my being afraid and afraid to say so, so much afraid that a name in a book can turn me inside out". By the time "Castle" was finished, she had lost her delight in her fears and succumbed to them, retreating from the world.

Jackson's collection includes the variety of stories showing the light domestic pieces and lighter romances along with her dark fiction. But Jackson has always been noted for her truly terrifying tales. She instilled fear by taking the rational and inserting the irrational., by having the...
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