Embodied disturbances: Disability and freakishness in Shirley Jackson's anxious horror

Marilyn DeAngelis Boyer, Fordham University


Within the suffocating conformist climate of the 1950s, the disabled were shunned and made to stay indoors by society. In her six novels, Shirley Jackson takes up the cause of the disabled by acting as their avenger through a concentration on exposition, protection, privilege, and revenge. She presents disabilities in the forms of blindness, stammering, obesity, mental retardation, schizophrenia, multiple personality disorder, crippledness, insanity, and sociopathic personality disorder. Throughout the novels, Jackson constructs her disabled personae as human beings of worth whose predicaments are to be taken seriously, and who are witnesses to the inhuman treatment afforded them by an ignorant and insensitive populace. Whether she is creating a disabled text, utilizing body parts to represent the schizophrenic person, exploring the relationship between multiple personality disorder and language, comparing crippledness to the broken family, sharing the stigma and ostracism of physical disability with a relative, or treating the sociopathic personality ambiguously with regard to identity and place, Jackson speaks loudly of her overall intention to act as a spokesperson for the legitimacy of the disabled in a world that continues to perceive them as less than human.

Subject Area

Womens studies|American literature|Gender studies

Recommended Citation

Boyer, Marilyn DeAngelis, "Embodied disturbances: Disability and freakishness in Shirley Jackson's anxious horror" (2012). ETD Collection for Fordham University. AAI3495882.