Hangsaman by Shirley Jackson

HANGSAMAN is Miss Jackson’s second novel. The story is a simple one but the overtones are immediately present. “Natalie Waite who was seventeen years old but who felt that she had been truly conscious only since she was about fifteen lived in an odd corner of a world of sound and sight, past the daily voices of her father and mother and their incomprehensible actions.” In a few graphic pages, the family is before us—Arnold Waite, a writer, egotistical and embittered; his wife, the complaining martyr; Bud, the younger brother who has not yet felt the need to establish his independence; and Natalie, in the nightmare of being seventeen.

The Sunday afternoon cocktail party, to which Arnold Waite has invited his literary friends and neighbors, serves to etch in the details of this family’s life, and to draw Natalie into the vortex. The story concentrates on the next few critical months in Natalie’s life, away at college, where each experience reproduces on a larger scale the crucial failure of her emotional life at home. With a mounting tension rising from character and situation as well as the particular magic of which Miss Jackson is master, the novel proceeds inexorably to the stinging melodrama of its conclusion. The bitter cruelty of the passage from adolescence to womanhood, of a sensitive and lonely girl caught in a world not of her own devising, is a theme well suited to Miss Jackson’s brilliant talent.

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