The Intoxicated by Shirley Jackson

Nowadays, “short story” becomes longer and longer. Sometime you get a short story of more than 50 pages and you would lose interest half way and have the desperate feeling that you could never finish it.

I want short story that is  genuinely short-averagely in 5 pages and 10 pages max. Something like Chekhov or Ryūnosuke Akutagawa, whose short stories always allow you to appreciate the beauty of short stories–intense, well patterned and make you think deep.

I am very happy to find a collection of short stories written by Shirley Jackson. I have read The Lottery ages ago and I loved it. And I always want to read more of Shirley Jackson.

The Intoxicated is the first story of the collection and it is real SHORT. The story looks like a plain conversation between an middle age man and 17 year old girl, Eilleen. It gives you a feeling that the adult guy is very dumb and awkward but the girl is very smart and special.

The main topic of the conversation is about the future of human being. The girl seems believe there is no hope for the future, things will change and collapse.We can’t see what’s the view of the middle-aged man but we can guess from his tone that he has different views from the girl-may be he thinks things will become better or at lease not going worse.

At the first beginning, he thought the girl is very different from the other girls at the similar age and she has great point of view. The readers would share his feeling. But as the conversation carried on, the girl sounds like insincere, too pessimistic and potentially brutal. It makes one feel unease and uncomfortable.

From where I suspect the girl is insincere?

1, the way she dressed: “baggy and ill-formed, it is the clothes they wear now.” Younger generation generally dress differently from the older generation and tried to show they are different, not agree with the old world. The girl is just one of them. 

2, The girl is not physically strong: she has pneumonia and has to drop one year of school; she doesn’t do much sport, at least not basketball, the most popular sport in USA. People who are not very strong and active are more eager to show they have great talent and think different from mainstream. It just the way to cover up their inability to cope with problems in reality.

3, Emphasis on being 17 years old: the girl is very sensitive about her age and likely to reckon 17 is more matured and understand more than 16. She is too eager to prove she is not just kid and she is smart. But someone that truly smart would not care if she/he is 17 not 16.

4, The girl is learning Latin and currently reading Caesar. By reading history and learning Latin, she is building a connection of the past with the present. But she denies the future which looks illogical. If she truly believe there is no future and they are the the last people to read Caesar, why she still working on Latin every night but not joining the party? Is she saying something not from her consciousness but merely to show she knows a lot?

5, When the middle-aged man compliments the girl to her father, he gets a cold response-“Kids nowadays”.It is more obvious. The girl has nothing special but just following the mainstream, like what the older generation did. The younger generation declares their independence by labeling themselves totally different to the older ones. But history is merely repetition, from Caesar to modern world, the nature of the human being hasn’t change much. What’s changed are merely the facial stuff.

I reread this story several times as I found it very interesting. What I can do as reader is just feel and guess but this give me much pleasure.This story has all the elements of great short story-sharp, ironic, conflicting but has meaning beyond words.







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