Shirley Jackson Analysis

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Discussion Topics

(Masterpieces of American Literature)

How do minor characters in Shirley Jackson’s books create atmosphere and move the plot forward?

What are some examples of social evil in Jackson’s work?

How do houses help develop the themes in Jackson’s fiction?

Many of Jackson’s characters are considered psychologically disturbed. How do they demonstrate mental imbalance or even insanity?

What are some of the humorous elements in Jackson’s short stories and novels?

Other Literary Forms

(Literary Essentials: Short Fiction Masterpieces)

Shirley Jackson’s dozen published books include novels, humorous fictionalized autobiographies, and children’s books. Many of her stories, essays, and public speeches remain uncollected. Several works have been adapted to other media: “The Lottery” for television, We Have Always Lived in the Castle (1962) for stage, and The Bird’s Nest (1954) and The Haunting of Hill House (1959) for the cinema.


(Literary Essentials: Short Fiction Masterpieces)

Shirley Jackson is probably best known for her short story “The Lottery,” which was first published in the June 26, 1948, edition of The New Yorker. As with the majority of her works, both short stories and novels, “The Lottery” explores the darker side of the human psyche, often in a manner disturbing to the reader. In addition to using ordinary settings for extraordinary occurrences, Jackson often injects an element of the supernatural. This is seen, for example, in the story “The Visit” and in the novel The Haunting of Hill House. In addition, Jackson has published Life Among the Savages (1953), a highly humorous account of her home life. In 1961, Jackson received the Edgar Allan Poe Award for her story “Louisa, Please.” She was awarded the Syracuse University Arents Pioneer Medal for Outstanding Achievement in 1965.


(Masterpieces of American Literature)

Cleveland, Carol. “Shirley Jackson.” In And Then There Were Nine More Women of Mystery, edited by Jane S. Bakerman. Bowling Green, Ky.: Bowling Green State University Popular Press, 1985. This chapter provides the reader with an overview of Jackson’s major works. In addition, Cleveland provides some useful critical insights.

Friedman, Lenemaja. Shirley Jackson. Boston: G. K. Hall, 1975. Friedman provides the reader with both a biographical and critical study of Jackson and offers information on both her short stories and novels. The volume includes an extensive secondary bibliography.

Hall, Wylie. Shirley Jackson: A Study of the Short Fiction. New York: Twayne, 1993. An introduction to Jackson’s stories, with comments by Jackson herself, and a few short, previously published, critical articles by others. Discusses Jackson’s interest in the occult, her fascination with dream situations, her focus on children, and her most famous story, “The Lottery.”

Hattenhauer, Darryl. Shirley Jackson's American Gothic. New York: State University of New York, 2003. A strong argument for Jackson's modernity. Analyzes her use of the supernatural as metaphor and illuminates the influences of Jackson's substance abuse, marital strife, and political leanings on her work.

Kittredge, Mary. “The Other Side of Magic: A Few Remarks About Shirley Jackson.” In Discovering Modern Horror Fiction, edited by Darrell Schweitzer. Mercer Island, Wash.: Starmont House, 1985. A useful study of the use of magic and the supernatural in Jackson’s works. The author draws interesting comparisons between Jackson’s fiction and nonfiction works.

Murphy, Bernice M., ed. Shirley Jackson: Essays on the Literary Legacy. Jefferson, NC: McFarland & Co., 2005. A collection of essays that sheds light on Jackson’s better and lesser known works.

Oppenheimer, Judy. Private Demons: The Life of Shirley Jackson . New York: G. P. Putnam’s Sons, 1988. This volume is the first extensive biography of Jackson. It is finely detailed and provides the reader an excellent view of this author. Oppenheimer interviewed close to seventy persons for this book, including Jackson’s family members, friends, and...

(The entire section is 882 words.)