Style and Technique

(Comprehensive Guide to Short Stories, Critical Edition)

Jackson’s technique in many of her stories consists of slowly building up a somewhat commonplace tale about quite commonplace people, then suddenly introducing at the end of the story an ironic shift that will leave readers pondering. Certainly this is her technique in “One Ordinary Day, with Peanuts,” just as it was in her most anthologized short story, “The Lottery,” a story designed to tweak quite painfully the consciences of its readers.

In this story, as in many of her others, Jackson uses unexceptional language and simple, direct sentence structure, both of which heighten the sense of the ordinary that pervades the story. If Mr. Johnson seems slightly unbelievable, he is not totally so. The world is full of unusual people, and this paragon of goodness, although he has a kind of Daddy Warbucks quality about him, might reasonably be expected to exist in a city as large as New York.

The ironic surprise ending of the story is a Jackson trademark. The title of the story, with its play on the word “ordinary,” is appropriate. The title, except for the word “day,” sounds like an order one would give to a waiter in a restaurant, and just as one does not eat the same restaurant meal every day, so Mr. Johnson does not lead the same kind of life every day.

One normally expects a degree of consistency in human behavior, but Jackson vetoes that notion. Mr. Johnson is the man who does not go uptown by the same route every day, so why should he be expected to be consistent in other things? Perhaps Jackson is intimating in this story that Mr. Johnson’s only consistency is his inconsistency.