Life Among the Savages

Shirley Jackson

Life Among the Savages.

Shirley Jackson, author of the chilling short story "The Lottery", was a writer of considerable talent. She was married to critic Stanley Edgar Hyman; they were the parents of four children. At the time Life Among the Savages was written (1953), the children ranged in age from one to ten.

"Our house is old, noisy, and full. When we moved into it we had two children and about five thousand books; I expect that when we finally overflow and move out again we will have perhaps twenty children and easily half a million books; we also own assorted beds and tables and chairs and rocking horses and lamps and doll dresses and ship models and paint brushes and literally thousands of socks. This is the way of life my husband and I have fallen into, inadvertently, as though we had fallen into a well and decided that since there was no way out we might as well stay and set up a chair and a desk and a light of some kind; even though this is our way of life, and the only one we know, it is occasionally bewildering, and perhaps even inexplicable to the sort of person who does not have that swift, accurate conviction that he is going to step on a broken celluloid doll in the dark. I cannot think of a preferable way of life, except one without children and without books, going on soundlessly in an apartment hotel where they do the cleaning for you and send up your meals and all you have to do is lie on a couch and – as I say, I cannot think of a preferable way of life, but then I have had to make a good many compromises, all told."

Jackson's ironic wit takes center stage in this book about her children and husband, and their life in the rambling old Vermont farmhouse described in the opening paragraph, quoted above. In the following passage, she relates the musings that occurred to her when she found that she was expecting another child.

"A what?" said Jamie.

"What for?" said Laurie.

Everyone always says the third baby is the easiest one to have, and now I know why. It's the easiest because it's the funniest, because you've been there twice, and you know. You know, for instance, how you're going to look in a maternity dress about the seventh month, and you know how to release the footbrake on a baby carriage without fumbling amateurishly, and you know how to tie your shoes before and do knee-chests after, and while you're not exactly casual, you're a bit more off-hand about the whole thing. Sentimental people keep insisting that women go on to have a third baby because they love babies, and cynical people seem to maintain that a woman with two healthy, active children around the house will do anything for ten quiet days in the hospital; my own position is somewhere between the two, but I acknowledge that it leans toward the latter."

Of course, these days new mothers aren't treated to ten-day stays in the hospital following the births of their children, but the rest of the story certainly rings true. Having grown up with four siblings, I can easily visualize all of us in the roles taken by Jackson's four "savages"! This tale is funny and memorable, and well worth a look. Be sure to read all about it!

Copyright © 2003, S. Halversen.
All Rights Reserved.