• Occult Influences in Shirley Jackson's "The Lottery"

    Samantha Landau (see profile)
    American literature, Twentieth century, Folklore--Study and teaching, Witchcraft, Comparative literature, Feminist criticism
    Item Type:
    20th-century American literature, Folklore studies
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    Demons, ghosts, and witches seem synonymous with the name Shirley Jackson (1916-1965), a New England author popularly known for her interest in the occult. However, Jackson's connection to the supernatural is perhaps one of the most misunderstood aspects of her oeuvre. It is notable that her only novel directly addressing ghosts is The Haunting of Hill House (1959). Most of her works that contain references to the paranormal or the magical do it in a way that Emily Dickinson would call "telling it slant." That is, there are hints and implications of the supernatural at work in the background of her stories, creating a common thread of the supernatural and the occult throughout, but these references remain ambiguous; it is never clear if the ghosts, witches, or demons are real. This is especially true of her first book of short stories, The Lottery, or The Adventures of James Harris (1949). Each story in the collection makes a "slant" reference to British and American occult phenomena in the form of witchcraft and the devil. Jackson's use of an ambiguous supernatural connects what modern society views as deeper anthropological and psychological drives behind belief in occult phenomena to situations and events that have repeated and continue to repeat themselves throughout human history, making the New England setting where her stories take place into a microcosm of supernatural possibilities. In these stories, lack of superstition and inability to attach deep meaning to traditions cause the modern mind to interpret demonic and magical presences through logic. These attempts ultimately fail-for Jackson, superstition and belief in the supernatural are powerful and irreplaceable.
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    3 years ago
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