Saturday, June 22, 2013

"Pillar of Salt"

"Pillar of Salt"
from The Lottery and Other Stories, by Shirley Jackson

I'm not sure why Jackson titled this story "Pillar of Salt"... I get the reference to the Bible, of course, but how it relates to the events and characters in this story... I think I'm missing something, there.  Unless... the main character (can't recall if we were given her name) is turned to a pillar of salt (loses her hold on sanity) because she longs for home, turning back to look at it, metaphorically...?  But... she doesn't really long for home, does she?  Not at first, at least.  Oh well.  The title just doesn't make much sense to me. 

I found this to be one of the more unsettling of the stories in this collection.  There are the big, obvious moments (like their finding a human leg on the beach), but there are also all these tiny little disturbing or odd bits and bobs that gradually add up to a shuddering whole. 

Snippets of Interest:
--  "She had a picture of small children in the city dressed like their parents, following along with a miniature mechanical civilization, toy cash registers in larger and larger sizes that eased them into the real thing, millions of clattering jerking small imitations that prepared them nicely for taking over the large useless toys their parents lived by."

--  "They go to the police for everything, Margaret [ah, that's her name] thought, these people, these New York people, it's as though they had selected a section of the population to act as problem-solvers, and so no matter what they want they look for a policeman."

--  "'I suppose it starts to happen first in the suburbs... People starting to come apart.'"

Hm... I don't know that I agree.  Seems to me things start going to pieces in urban areas, first... Things can change faster in cities, with so many people and so few meaningful connections among them.  It takes longer for things to happen in more traditional, sedate, secluded areas... and suburbs are closer to that end of the scale.

--  "It seemed to Margaret that the marble in the house lobby had begun to age a little; even in two days there were new perceptible cracks.  The elevator seemed a little rusty, and there was a fine film of dust over everything in the apartment."

Margaret's obsession with things deteriorating, crumbling into dust, does remind me of Lot's wife-- a solid, living figure rendered into mere pillar of salt, slowly eroding.  It also makes me think of entropy-- a frightening, inevitable collapse into disorder and confusion.

--  "Suddenly as she was drinking it the panic caught her again and she thought of the people who had been with her when she first started to cross the street, blocks away by now, having tried and made perhaps a dozen lights while she had hesitated at the first; people by now a mile or so downtown, because they had been going steadily while she had been trying to gather her courage."

That gives me a shiver. 
Have we all had that kind of thought?  Not so much about actual physical progress down a city street, but about progress through life?  That fear that we're being left behind.  "He who hesitates is lost"-- and we did hesitate.  Are we now lost, forever?  How will we ever catch up to where we're "supposed" to be, by now?  --That kind of thing.  It's creepy to find yourself confronted with personal fears in some random short story-- especially when they're attributed to mentally unbalanced characters!  (g)

Classic Shirley Jackson, this story.