Jackson was born in San Francisco, to father Leslie Jackson, an English immigrant and Geraldine Bugbee Jackson, who was related to the famous California architects, an association some give credit for driving her sense of place and detail for architecture in her stories. She spent most of her years in Vermont and is associated as a New England writer. The last work Jackson published, like the Lottery was one of a macabre chance occurrence. "Home" (1965), the last work Jackson published before her death, describes an outsider's dangerous encounter with the ghost of a small boy who is trying to return to the country house she and her husband have innocently purchased."
Hall 311) Hall also goes on to state that her early life in the suburbs of California is reflected in her first novel, the Road Through the Wall (1948), He also noted that many of her early stories were self published in the magazine she and her husband founded at Syricuse University, Spectre.
Their outspoken editorials on civil rights anticipated "After You, My Dear Alphonse" (1942), a critique of a middle-class housewife who foolishly assumes that her young son's African-American friend comes from a large, poor, and lazy family. It was Jackson's first story for the New Yorker. Jackson and Hyman were married on August 13, 1940, in New York City, and her jobs at a radio station, an advertising agency, and Macy's department store supplemented his modest income from the New Republic and the New Yorker.
It was relatively early in the marriage of these two literary giants that they moved to Vermont and began to develop collaborative and individual works. Jackson's life was clearly a juxtaposition of family demands as well as literary goals. She worked several mundane jobs to help the family make ends meet, and wrote on the side, selling her fiction to many publications to again supplement the family income.
When Hyman joined the faculty of Bennington College in 1945 and they moved to Vermont, Jackson's sense of dislocation paralleled that of many of her lonely characters. She wrote several hours a day, typing manuscripts between RT.A. meetings, baseball games, and pajama parties for her four children. Family activities inspired more than thirty semiautobiographical comic stories, which Jackson sold to Ladies' Home Journal, Good Housekeeping, Harper's, and other magazines. The most frequently anthologized of these is "Charles," which ends with an O. Henry twist when the startled mother of a new kindergartener realizes that the terror of the classroom is her own son.
Many also consider Jackson an innovator in family comedy and her subjects and characters were often mundane people dealing with circumstances outside of the real and their control.
A she skillfully pieced most of these stories into the fictionalized memoirs Life Among the Savages (1953) and Raising Demons (1957), yet she discounted the literary merit of such work. As recent scholars have demonstrated, however, the popular domestic narratives of writers like Jackson,... are a major branch of American women's humor and a mirror of post World War II culture. Jackson's family stories also bear the hallmarks of her more serious short and long fiction. Ordinary situations turn strange, even nightmarish.
The character of her fiction expresses both an internal and external desire to connect the mundane of sports matches and PTA meetings with the undercurrent of unreality that can overtake the mind in waking dreams. Jackson's creativity is clearly demonstrated in her works of differing lengths and subjects as a creation of much time spent thinking and wondering what others were thinking at the same time.
The haunted tower of a country mansion in "A Visit" and the demonic stranger who mesmerizes a young woman in "The Rock" are among Jackson's occasional gothic touches, but the oddness of her fiction more often inheres in the everyday. In "The Summer People," for example, an elderly husband and wife stay at their lake cottage after Labor Day, only to find themselves cut off from the outside world, awaiting probable death at the hands of resentful villagers "a violent defense of tradition that parallels the acThe Lottery; or, the Adventures of James Harris (1949), the only collection that Jackson made of her short fiction, capitalized on the impact of the title story in the New Yorker. Jackson grouped her twenty-five tales into four sections, inserted transitional passages from a witchcraft treatise, revised stories to emphasize a mysterious stranger named James Harris, and appended the "demon lover" ballad to clarify the subtitle of the book.
Hall 312) biographical description of the Lottery demonstrates the connectedness that Jackson felt to her work, and though there is a clear sense that her fiction is not directly reflective of real events it is a reflection of the idea that there is in every small town or large city an undercurrent of unspoken truths that frequently dominates the subtext of culture and social interaction.
Jackson's most famous story opens on a beautiful June 27 as villagers gather for an annual lottery that is held concurrently in other towns. According to the biographer Judy Oppenheimer, Jackson's own town of North Bennington was the model for both its modern setting and its characters. Playful children arrive on the square before their busy parents, and the boys make a large pile of the "smoothest and roundest" stones, whose grim purpose is revealed only at the story's conclusion. Other foreshadowings are equally unobtrusive. The townspeople keep their distance from the lottery equipment and hesitate when Mr. Summers asks them to steady the black box so he can mix up the slips of paper inside. The degree of ceremony is puzzling: families line up together, lists of kinship networks have been prepared, and every able-bodied person must attend. People seem reluctant to get the winning ticket, and there are rumors that other villages are going to stop holding the lottery; but Old Man Warner counters with a proverb: "Lottery in June, corn be heavy soon." When Bill Hutchinson draws the slip with a black spot, his wife shatters the morning calm, shouting that Mr. Summers rushed Bill's selection. Tessie herself receives the marked paper after the five Hutchinsons draw to determine which family member will win the final round. As the desperate woman screams, "It isn't fair," the town advances against her, armed with stones from the boys' stockpile. "The Lottery" has provoked a variety of critical responses, including mythic, feminist, and Marxist approaches. Jackson told her New Yorker editor that "The Lottery" was "just a story" with no special theme, but Oppenheimer says she told a friend it was about "the Jews," recent victims of Nazi terror in World War II.
Jackson was a creative writer of the greatest caliber and she utilized her knowledge and her current context, as well as that of the world in which she lived, the character of women often falling prey to the unknown terror of symbolic and real sacrifice.
A student of folklore, Jackson employed archetypes of scapegoating and seasonal sacrifice, timing the lottery near the summer solstice, when farming communities labor to ensure a rich harvest. The three-legged stool that supports the ominously black box could be a modern version of the Greek tripod of prophecy, and the container itself recalls Pandora's box of woes. A neighbor reminds the distraught Tessie that each villager "took the same chance"; however, in Jackson's fiction, women have a knack for drawing disaster.
Jackson would likely have called herself a feminist, if she had not had such a sense of the frivolity of her works. She tended to come across in interviews not as an object of the horror that she depicts in her work but someone with a good sense of the comic nature of the world. She belittled her works, describing them as Just stories even though the messages within them were often biographically and contextually brilliant.
Bloom, Harold, ed. American Women Fiction Writers, 1900-1960. Vol. 2. Philadelphia: Chelsea House Publishers, 2000.
Gelfant, Blanche H., and Lawrence Graver, eds. The Columbia Companion to the Twentieth-Century American Short Story. New York: Columbia University Press, 2000.
Hague, Angela. "A Faithful Anatomy of Our Times": Reassessing Shirley Jackson." Frontiers - a Journal of Women's Studies 26.2 (2005): 73.
Hall, Joan Wylie. "Shirley Jackson (1916-1965)." The Columbia Companion to the Twentieth-Century American Short Story. Ed. Blanche H.…