Shirley Jackson, (1916-1965), is a female writer who has made her mark in Twentieth-Century American Literature. She is most famous for her short story "The Lottery" which was published in 1948 in The New Yorker. This one story shocked the country. People throughout the United States sent letters to the magazine with various responses to the story. Some were shocked that such a brutal text about a ritual that takes place annually in contemporary New England could actually be true. Others wanted to know where they could witness such an event. Still more wanted to just cancel their subscriptions. In her "Biography of a Story" Jackson talks about the origin of the story and includes many of the letters she had received in response to it.
Jackson wrote the story one day when she was pushing her daughter in her stroller (with added groceries) up the long hill to her home in North Benningon, Vermont. She states that the last fifty yards put an edge to the story. Written in only two hours, she came up with a masterpiece of Twentieth-Century American Literature that is anthologized to a large degree in many current texts. Jackson is also well-known for her other short stories and novels which she published in postwar America. She also deals with many disabilities that she champions including schizophrenia, multiple personality disorder, crippledness, caregiver burden, and sociopathic personality disorder. She had a deep commitment to the disabled but this fact has gone relatively unnoticed by the critics who have evaluated her work and scholars who have written dissertations about her novels and short stories.
Jackson's first novel "The Road through the Wall" is a story that involves the plight of suburbanites during mid-century, whose lives were suffocated by their inabiilty to see past their petty mindsets. In "Hangsaman," Natalie Waite is a young schizophrenic woman who hears voices and creates an imaginary friend, Tony, to offset the intense loneliness and frustration she feels during her first year of college.
"The Bird's Nest" is a novel about Elizabeth Richmond, who, because of probable sexual trauma, divides herself into four alternative personalites in order to cope with the pressure of having to exist with such a burden. "The Sundial" is a story about a possible upcoming holocaust that causes members of the Halloran estate to wait for the end in which they alone will survive.
In "The Haunting of Hill House," Eleanor Vance has been caring for her physically disabled mother for the past eleven years. Since her mother has died only three months before, Eleanor needs a change and decides to embark on an adventure to Hill House. Unfortunately, the years she has spent indoors with her mother, which is where a caregiver would have spent most her time, causes her to be relatively incapable of social interaction. In the end, she crashes her car into a tree, mainly because she feels that society will not accept her, and she has no home to return to.
"We Have Always Lived in the Castle" is a novel about a sociopath who has killed four members of her family and who gets away with it. All six novels that Jackson wrote, in addition to her one hundred or so short stories locate her firmly as a vital force in Twentieth-Century American Literature.