In The Daemon Lover, James (Jamie) Harris, a handsome author, deserts his dowdy 34-year old fiancée. The plot of this short story may be indebted to “The Demon Lover” by Elizabeth Bowen, whom Jackson ranked with Katherine Anne Porter as one of the best contemporary short story writers. When Jamie Harris disappears, he shatters his bride’s dreams of living in a “golden house in-the-country” (DL 12). Her shock of recognition that she will never trade her lonely city apartment for a loving home mirrors the final scenes of “The Lottery” and “The Pillar of Salt” as well as many other stories in which a besieged woman suffers a final and often fatal blow.
In “The Daemon Lover,” the second story in The Lottery and Other Stories, Jackson’s collection of 25 tales, the reader sees James Harris only through his fiancée’s eyes as a tall man wearing a blue suit. Neither the reader nor anyone in the story can actually claim to have seen him. Nonetheless, this piece foreshadows the appearance of Harris in such other stories in the collection as “Like Mother Used to Make,” “The Village,” “Of Course,” “Seven Types of Ambiguities,” and “The Tooth.” As James Harris wanders through the book, he sheds the veneer of the ordinary that covers his satanic nature.
The irony in “The Daemon Lover” is that the female protagonist becomes suspect as she hunts for the mysterious young man “who promised to marry her” (DL 23). Everywhere she searches, she encounters couples who mock her with not-so-subtle insinuations that she is crazy. Indeed, at the end of the story she may well have become insane; the narrative is ambiguous on this point. Significantly, however, if the nameless woman has indeed lost her mind, it is James who is responsible. Although some critics speculate that the disruptive male figure—both in this story and in the others in the collection—is a hallucination of a sexually repressed character, the epilogue to The Lottery, a ballad entitled “James Harris, The Daemon Lover,” suggests otherwise: He is, in fact, the devil himself.
For Jackson, The Lottery is more than a ghost story; “The Daemon Lover” in particular and the collection in general critique a society that fails to protect women from becoming victims of strangers or neighbors. As in “The Lottery,” Jackson’s shocking account of a housewife’s ritualistic stoning, or in “The Pillar of Salt,” which traces a wife’s horror and growing hysteria when she has lost her way, the threatened characters are women. Although many of Jackson’s stories are modern versions of the folk tale of a young wife’s abduction by the devil, and although her characters are involved in terrifying circumstances, the point is that these tales seem true: They are rooted in reality. Thus, Jackson exposes the threat to women’s lives in a society that condones the daemon lover.
Jackson, Shirley. “The Daemon Lover.” In the Lottery and Other Stories. Modern Library Series. New York: Random House, 2000.
Oppenheimer, Judy. Private Demons: The Life of Shirley Jackson. New York: Putnam, 1988.
Wylie, Joan. Shirley Jackson: A Study of the Short Fiction. New York: Twayne, 1994.
Categories: American Literature, Literary Criticism, Literature, Short Story
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