Jackson's Macabre

By Rollyson, Carl | New Criterion, March 2017 | Go to article overview

Jackson's Macabre


Rollyson, Carl, New Criterion


Jackson's macabre

Ruth Franklin

Shirley Jackson: A Rather Haunted Life.

Liveright, 624 pages, $35

In a nearly empty train coach, a charming male passenger, smoking a cigar, sits beside a young boy and his mother. The boy is looking for witches, and the inquisitive stranger asks him if he has seen many. The boy does not answer the question, instead saying his father smokes cigars. All men do that, the stranger replies, and a rapport is immediately established between them. The boy responds to every question put to him with a lie. He says his name is Mr. Jesus and that he is twenty-six. The mother offers the truth. His name is Johnny, and he is four. To the stranger's question about the age of Johnny's baby sister, who has been playing with her rattle when she is not crying and laughing, Johnny responds she is twelve and a half. When the man asks Johnny if he loves his sister, Johnny does not answer. Then the man asks if Johnny wants to hear about the man's sister. Excited, Johnny asks if she was a witch. "Maybe," the man responds. The little boy laughs as the man begins, "Once upon a time," a phrase that seems to reassure the anxious mother, who has obviously been wondering about this stranger's attention to her son. Then the man explains that lie put his hands around his sister's neck,

"And I pinched her and I pinched her until she was dead."

The little boy gasped and the mother turned around, her smile fading. She opened her mouth, and then closed it again as the man went on, "And then I took and I cut her head off and I took her head--"

"Did you cut her all in pieces?" the little boy asked breathlessly.

"I cut off her head and her hands and her feet and her hair and her nose," the man said, "and I hit her with a stick and I killed her."

"Wait a minute," the mother said, but the baby fell over sideways just at that minute and by the time the mother had set her up again the man was going on.

"And I took her head and I pulled out her hair and--"

"Your little sister?" the little boy prompted eagerly.

"My little sister," the man said firmly. "And I put her head in a cage with a bear and the bear ate it all up."

"Ate her head all up?" the little boy asked.

The mother put her book down, and came across the aisle. She stood next to the man and said, "Just what do you think you're doing?" The man looked up courteously and she said, "Get out of here."

"Did I frighten you?" the man said. He looked down at the little boy and nudged him with an elbow and he and the little boy laughed.

"This man cut up his little sister," the little boy said to his mother.

Here you have the Shirley Jackson effect: horror in the midst of the commonplace. Jackson's conventional mother wanted to know why she wrote about such gruesome episodes. Her husband, the distinguished critic Stanley Edgar Hyman, fretted that such stories earned both of them a living while he toiled on tomes like The Armed Vision and The Tangled Bank, investigating the great literary modernists and the likes of Darwin and Freud. …

The rest of this article is only available to active members of Questia

Already a member? Log in now.

Notes for this article

Add a new note
If you are trying to select text to create highlights or citations, remember that you must now click or tap on the first word, and then click or tap on the last word.
One moment ...
Default project is now your active project.
Project items
Notes
Cite this article

Cited article

Style
Citations are available only to our active members.
Buy instant access to cite pages or passages in MLA 8, MLA 7, APA and Chicago citation styles.

(Einhorn, 1992, p. 25)

(Einhorn 25)

(Einhorn 25)

1. Lois J. Einhorn, Abraham Lincoln, the Orator: Penetrating the Lincoln Legend (Westport, CT: Greenwood Press, 1992), 25, http://www.questia.com/read/27419298.

Note: primary sources have slightly different requirements for citation. Please see these guidelines for more information.

Cited article

Jackson's Macabre
Settings

Settings

Typeface
Text size Smaller Larger Reset View mode
Search within

Search within this article

Look up

Look up a word

  • Dictionary
  • Thesaurus
Please submit a word or phrase above.
Print this page

Print this page

Why can't I print more than one page at a time?

Help
Full screen
Items saved from this article
  • Highlights & Notes
  • Citations
Some of your highlights are legacy items.

Highlights saved before July 30, 2012 will not be displayed on their respective source pages.

You can easily re-create the highlights by opening the book page or article, selecting the text, and clicking “Highlight.”

matching results for page

    Questia reader help

    How to highlight and cite specific passages

    1. Click or tap the first word you want to select.
    2. Click or tap the last word you want to select, and you’ll see everything in between get selected.
    3. You’ll then get a menu of options like creating a highlight or a citation from that passage of text.

    OK, got it!

    Cited passage

    Style
    Citations are available only to our active members.
    Buy instant access to cite pages or passages in MLA 8, MLA 7, APA and Chicago citation styles.

    "Portraying himself as an honest, ordinary person helped Lincoln identify with his audiences." (Einhorn, 1992, p. 25).

    "Portraying himself as an honest, ordinary person helped Lincoln identify with his audiences." (Einhorn 25)

    "Portraying himself as an honest, ordinary person helped Lincoln identify with his audiences." (Einhorn 25)

    "Portraying himself as an honest, ordinary person helped Lincoln identify with his audiences."1

    1. Lois J. Einhorn, Abraham Lincoln, the Orator: Penetrating the Lincoln Legend (Westport, CT: Greenwood Press, 1992), 25, http://www.questia.com/read/27419298.

    Cited passage

    Thanks for trying Questia!

    Please continue trying out our research tools, but please note, full functionality is available only to our active members.

    Your work will be lost once you leave this Web page.

    Buy instant access to save your work.

    Already a member? Log in now.

    Search by... Author
    Show... All Results Primary Sources Peer-reviewed

    Oops!

    An unknown error has occurred. Please click the button below to reload the page. If the problem persists, please try again in a little while.