Vol. 69 No. 1 (2021)

The Essential Self of Natalie Waite in Hangsaman by Shirley Jackson

Susan J. Behrens
Marymount Manhattan College

Published 2021-02-15


  • literary names,
  • Hangsaman,
  • Shirley Jackson,
  • Tarot,
  • US Fiction


In light of a 2016 biography and 2020 feature film about writer Shirley Jackson, contemporary readers are rediscovering Jackson’s work. One novel of interest is Hangsaman (1951). This is a book in motion, with shifting realities and narratives that are mirrored in the author’s naming schemes. Moments of disorientation in Hangsaman originate in, and reflect, the inner life of protagonist Natalie Waite. There seem to be multiple Natalies who struggle at times to be whole, and at other times to be a different person entirely. Along with these vicissitudes in personality, the protagonist takes on variations on the name Natalie. At the point at which she is at the greatest risk of losing herself completely, Natalie adopts a new name, the gender-ambiguous Tony. Natalie is ultimately saved from slipping away and becoming Tony through the author’s device of false starts, i.e., opportunities for characters to relive and rename events in a new light, in a different reality. Natalie’s internal journey has been, all along, tracked by her public and private names.


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