Irrepresive Individuals

The Irrepressible Individual in the Works of Shirley Jackson Throughout her life, Shirley Jackson struggled with a conflict between her dogged individuality and society's requirement that she adhere to its norms and standards. Jackson saw a second level of human nature, an inner identity lurking beneath the one which outwardly conforms with society's expectations. Society's repression of her individuality haunted Jackson in her personal life and expressed itself in her writing through the opposition of two levels of reality, one magical and one mundane, but both equally real. All of the various dichotomies that make up Jackson's double-sided reality can be traced to the hidden human nature, the repressed individual she saw within each of us.

From an early age, Jackson did not feel completely comfortable in the society around her. She preferred to sit in her room and write poetry rather than play with the other children in her neighborhood (Oppenheimer 16). Alone in her room, Jackson explored the magical worlds, the alter-egos which her family did not understand. "I will not tolerate having these other worlds called imaginary," she insisted (Oppenheimer 21). Jackson did not satisfy her mother, a wealthy socialite who wanted her daughter to be beautiful and popular and was disturbed by her talk of "other worlds." Relations between Jackson and her mother were tense throughout her life, paralleling the conflict between Jackson and the society in which she found no place for herself. "I will not tolerate having these other worlds called imaginary" -Shirley Jackson Jackson's mother wrote to her once that "you were always a wilful child" (Oppenheimer 14).

This careless statement captures Jackson's stubborn assertion of her individuality, as well as her mother's disapproval. Jackson's obesity particularly troubled her mother, who suggestively sent her corsets even after she was married (Oppenheimer 14). Being overweight symbolized Jackson's rebellion against her mother and the standards of fashionable society. Her obesity demonstrates the connection Jackson made between her unique individuality and the "freakish and abnormal, the 'grotesque and arabesque'" (Sullivan n. pag.). The abnormal second reality Jackson contemplated in the seclusion of her room was to her supremely ironic.

Jackson rarely ends her stories with a resolution of the plot; instead, a dramatic incident or revelation serves to illustrate the irony she sees in the world. In her most famous short story, "The Lottery," Jackson takes pains to describe a village of hard-working, upstanding Americans.
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