Creator / Shirley Jackson

Shirley Jackson (1916-1965) was an American author known for her dark stories of mystery and horror. Her best known work is the short-story, "The Lottery", about the dark underside of American small-town life, which has been adapted for film three times. Her novel The Haunting of Hill House has been adapted for film twice, and several of her other works have been adapted for the stage or screen. She only wrote about half-a-dozen novels, but was a prolific short-story author.

In 2007, the Shirley Jackson Award for outstanding achievement in psychological suspense and dark fantasy was created in her honor.

Works with a page on this wiki:

Other works include:

  • Hangsaman (1951)
  • The Bird's Nest (1954)
  • Life Among the Savages (memoir, 1952)
  • Raising Demons (memoir, 1957)
  • The Road Through the Wall (her first novel, 1948)
  • The Sundial (1958)

Tropes in her other works:

  • All Cloth Unravels: In the very slightly autobiographical book Raising Demons, on a family trip to New York, 6-year-old Sally ties the loose thread of her knitted hat to a seat in the train before getting off: "I'd like to see that train get away," she says. Things don't get really challenging until the hotel turns out to have a revolving door.
  • Big Applesauce: While Jackson is more famous for her stories of small-town horror, many earlier stories take place in what is clearly meant to be a nightmarish version of New York City.
  • Child Mage: Several of the family stories show Sally as one. Jackson herself was a witch and it's possible the "Sally's Magic" stories started with Sally imitating Mommy's spells.
  • Daylight Horror: Many of Jackson's short stories take place in cheery sunlit suburban kitchens. The "gas from the refrigerator" incident in Life Among the Savages also counts... including the fact that she managed to get a sparkling new remodeled kitchen out of her husband in the following weeks.
  • The '50s: The setting for a number of her works, in particularly her family-based stories. Jackson had a talent for both invoking and successfully skewering the popular culture of the time, such as "Birthday Party". Preteen Jannie's slumber party fills the house with the sounds of Elvis Presley while jazz-loving oldest son Laurie retreats to the den with his trombone. Meanwhile, little Barry cranks his "Spacemen On The Moon" record (5—4—3—2—1 BLAST OFF!) and his sister Sally joins in with a recording of Peter and the Wolf. After a few repetitions of The King, both parents give their son permission to start practicing, with instructions to "play the loudest."
  • Four-Temperament Ensemble: Jackson's children, presented as mildly fictionalized versions of themselves:
    • Sanguine: Laurie, the boastful, exuberant, natural leader who throws himself into dozens of projects and hobbies and surrounds himself with groups and teams.
    • Melancholic: Jannie, Future Homemaker of America, member of the Starlight 4-H Club and all-around Girly Girl who is the most conventional and sociable (and later the most romantic-minded) of the four.
    • Choleric: Sally, the challenging, stubborn, mischievous, self-defined imp who marches to her own drummer.
    • Phlegmatic: Barry, the youngest, described as a "dogged little foot soldier." He's a bit too young to have a personality of his own just yet, but what little he displays is easy-going, patient, and almost wearily amused by his siblings (and often his parents).
  • Free-Range Children: An almost expected extension of The '50s above. Jackson paints a picture of a world where children essentially go off to live their own lives as soon as they step out their front doors. Sometimes this childhood freedom is idealized and sometimes it's played for Adult Fear (as when Laurie rides his bike into an oncoming car — this really happened) and sometimes even both at once.
  • Horny Devil: A recurrent figure in Jackson's short story is a mysterious man in blue calling himself James Harris, who may or may not be a supernatural creature. Though he rarely appears directly, women seduced by him abandoned their lives and families to pursue him...only to find themselves stranded and alone when he vanishes. (The original title of The Lottery was even subtitled "The Adventures of James Harris" and the collection ends with the ballad of the Daemon Lover.)
  • Housewife: Many of Jackson's short stories are about housewives trapped in a hellish suburbia. It's like the dark side of Donna Reed — gossiping neighbors destroying reputations, people sending anonymous poison pen letters, racial and class prejudice galore. Jackson herself also appears as a housewife in her family collections, albeit an often wry and coolly cynical one.
  • Humans Are Bastards: A common theme in Jackson's short stories, and the moral of her most famous work "The Lottery."
  • Imaginary Friend: Life Among the Savages, essays based on her family, describes a shopping trip with her son, daughter, and her daughter's seven daughters, all named Martha, whom Jannie has adopted after their real parents killed each other.
    • Inextricably intertwined here with I Have Many Names: Jannie's real name is Joanne, after one of her parents wanted to name her Anne and the other Jean: "Her brother calls her Honey, Sis, and Dopey, Sally calls her Nannie, and she calls herself, variously, Jean, Jane, Anne, Linda, Barbara, Estelle, Josephine, Geraldine, Sarah, Sally, Laura, Margaret, Marilyn, Susan, and — imposingly — Mrs. Ellenoy. The second Mrs. Ellenoy." Mrs. Ellenoy's seven daughters all use these names as well, in a "constant bewildering shifting", so that "it is sometimes very difficult to remember whether you are addressing Janey Ellenoy or a small girl with seven daughters named Martha."
    • Sally and Barry, a few years later, engage in World Building. Gunnywapitat is the paracosm unifying all the places we associate with fairy tales. Located under a huge tree (causing Sally's father to ask "Yggdrasil?"), it's presided over by someone named Pudge (now you have to turn around three times). Jackson plays this one to the hilt. Sally and Barry subsequently disappear for a few hours and Jackson gets frantic, while everyone calmly reassures her "they're in Pudge's tree". A huge tub of flowers appears on the porch the next morning, with an elegantly written card signed by Pudge.
  • Kids Are Cruel: Children are often presented as amoral monsters. Jackson's representations of her own children are not immune from this interpretation (although in their case, it's usually Played for Laughs).
  • Lovecraft Country: Jackson lived most of her adult life in Vermont, and many of her stories have the requisite flinty creepiness.
  • Mistaken for an Imposter: The short story Louisa, Please Come Home concerns a nineteen-year-old girl who runs away from home and returns three years later only to find that she Can't Go Home Again. Because her family thinks she's an imposter after the reward money. Dramatic Irony ensues.
  • Noodle Incident: It's never made quite clear exactly what Sally and her magic did to the clock: everyone in the family has agreed to speak no more of it. Jannie can still tell time on the clock, sort of, but Jannie is left-handed anyway.
  • Rape as Drama: Natalie Waite in Hangsaman flirts with a man at her father's cocktail party and he drags her off. In so many words, the narrative reveals that he raped her. When she gets to college, she refuses to tell a gathering of the school's Girl Posse whether she's a virgin.
  • Sanity Slippage: A common feature in Jackson's short stories is a woman gradually, subtly going mad.
  • Spooky Sťance: Angela in the never-finished Come Along With Me holds a seance. She's a real medium; spirits constantly come to her, but it's very random, so she's not even always sure if she's talking to the loved ones of her sitters. The messages she does get don't fit their preconceived notions, and they leave unsatisfied.
  • Verbal Tic: In her loosely autobiographical Raising Demons, Jackson describes her daughter Sally going through a phase, at about four, where she repeated the key word in every sentence: "Well, I told Amy's mother that I did not have any breakfast, breakfast, because my mommy did not wake up and give it to me, mommy. And Amy's mother said I was a poor baby, baby, and she gave me cereal and fruit, cereal, and she said there, dear, and she gave me chocolate milk, and I did remember to say thank you, remember." (Jackson was gifted at capturing the Verbal Tic s of small children's speech: "You bad bad webbis.")
    • Amy is even worse. She repeats entire sentences. "Can Sally come out and play? Is Sally here so she can play with me?"
    • In ''The Road Through the Wall', Beverly, a young girl with an unspecified mental disability, tends to do pretty much the same thing.
  • Wham Line: In the short story "Charles" (later included in the fix-up book Life Among the Savages), Jackson's son Laurie, a new kindergartener, is constantly telling stories about a mischievous classmate Charles whose inventively naughty behavior fascinates both parents. The narrator sets out for her first parent-teacher conference eager to meet Charles' mother. The teacher remarks that Laurie has had some trouble adjusting and his mother blames it on Charles' influence. The teacher is confused:
    "Laurie usually adjusts very quickly," I said. "I suppose this time it's Charles' influence."
    "Yes," I said, laughing, "you must have your hands full in that kindergarten, with Charles."
    "Charles?" she said. "We don't have any Charles in the kindergarten."