Hangsaman by Shirley Jackson (1952) – a review

Hangsaman by Shirley Jackson

Original review from The Age, Melbourne Australia, February 1952, of Hangsaman by Shirley Jackson: A Novel of Emotional Bewilderment.  Shirley Jackson, with the acuteness of a surgeon, lays bare the tissue and nerves of adolescent emotions in her novel, Hangsaman.

She portrays the period between childhood and maturity in the life of an American girl when self assumes immense proportions and demands constant dramatization, gaining importance and size in these imaginary flights.

Natalie Waite, seventeen years old, comes from a home where there is disunity. Both the father, who is a not very successful writer, and the mother, who feels she has but herself off from her own people by her marriage, seek to find solace in the girl. At some sacrifice they send her to college.


An iffy college environment

The college is one which, unfortunately, has not been able to achieve a very high standard of scholarship and half-baked instructors make a showing at educating. Natalie commits the faux pas of finding one out. Further, she scorns the feeble initiation ceremony, and so marks herself as a misfit in college life.

Loneliness descends on her like a pall while she struggles to find some place amongst her housemates. Her unhappiness culminates in a nightmare in which her experiences at home and in the college are massed in horrible shape.

She finds only one friend in the college, a girl who is an echo of herself but stronger, who shows her the dark places into which her wallowing in her own ego might lead her.

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Hangsaman by Shirley Jackson

Hangsaman by Shirley Jackson on Amazon

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Striking terror into the heart of parents

This story is one to bring terror to the heart of a parent sending an unadaptable child out among her fellows. One would think that it must surely be autobiographical, so deeply has the author plunged in her description of the cruelty girls can deal one to another and of the brutality with which the can win a place in the mob.

It is a harrowing and particularly vicious picture and not an easily assimilated one. Incidents are part of the general emotional bewilderment of scenes that build to a climax, leaving the reader to wonder to the last moment whether Natalie will escape.

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More about Hangsaman by Shirley Jackson

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