After concluding “HangedI can definitely say that I fell in love with Shirley Jackson’s writing and her scathing reviews of American society. Then, while searching for another captivating read, I came across one of Jackson’s most comical works: “The Sundial” (1958). The novel is an absurd, dynamically constructed ride with compelling main characters that keep dark comedy fresh in yet another magnificent analysis of the plight of female empowerment and wealth inequality.
The story revolves around the Halloran family and the peculiar death of Lionel Halloran, the master of the deed of the exquisite Halloran mansion, but borderline garish. Suspicions arise within the family, and many believe that his mother, Orianna, murdered Lionel. She will inherit the house in the event of death as her husband, Richard, is under her guardianship due to his advanced age and illnesses. At this point, I thought the plot would unfold in a predictable fashion following similar rhythms to Rian Johnson’s movie “Knives Out” (2019), dampening my will to continue. Yet Jackson turns the tide of a family-run murder mystery, weaving a narrative about doomsday cults and the apocalypse.
Aunt Fanny, Richard’s sister living at the mansion, fears Orianna’s ownership of the deed, as Orianna despises her and will no doubt try to force her out of the family home. Distraught, Fanny wanders the sprawling, labyrinthine gardens of the mansion and stumbles upon a sundial, where she is said to have heard the voice of her father, the patriarch who built the mansion. Her father warns of the beginning of the end times and urges the family to come together to protect themselves and the mansion. Therefore, the focus of the novel shifts with the chaos resulting from backstabbing, power grabbing, and the general chaos that emerges among family members. Yet their struggle to prepare for the apocalypse is so overblown it’s downright hysterical, lightening the darker connotations in history.
A key selling point of “The Sundial” involves how the family dynamics before and after the revelation of the apocalypse underscore the struggle for women’s empowerment. Either way, Orianna is obviously meant to serve as a vehicle for this dialogue. Undoubtedly, she is the matriarch of the family: she dictates the coordination of preparations, provides authoritative direction and controls the family. However, in Orianna’s pursuit to do so, she is portrayed as an emotionless harpy who is ready to kill her son and as a dictatorial to impose guidelines for his ideal female-centric society to emerge from the ashes of the old. world order.
From Orianna’s perspective, her female-centric society is meant to contradict everything she despises in today’s male-centric world. For Orianna, her husband’s incapacity, her son’s death, and the potential for an apocalypse have given her the authority that at any other point in her life she is either clawed to reach or forced to shut up. . Perhaps this is why Orianna’s fight is so likable, even though its overall characterization borders on that of a comedic villain – it reflects how ambitious women have been misinterpreted as problems, not assets, during the 1950s. While such problems may not be as pronounced in today’s society, women in all walks of life still face systemic inequalities, which manifest themselves in society. unequal To pay, inadequate protection against violence and gender perceptions that degrade or objectify women.
Additionally, Hallorans frequently belittle and ignore the ability of the lower class. Many family members argue that the lower class is not worth saving due to a lack of sophistication; thus, they should not know the apocalypse. Instead, the family chooses to throw an end of the world party for them as a show of sympathy. However, during this holiday, the spirit and the general normality of the inhabitants of the city are fully exposed. Whether it is the librarian or the butcher, everyone takes the opportunity to elucidate the grotesque excesses of the Hallorans, their ability to waste time and their eccentric behavior.
Moreover, throughout the novel, the appearance of the Halloran manor is reinforced by its splendor, its excessiveness and its dignity; However, as the work progresses, the townspeople unveil a darker and more sinister story. The mansion built by Richard’s father was built using unscrupulous means, whether through a prominent estate, abusing contract laws to sue people, or buying them back into providing them with better facilities for doing business. Taken together, these elements reflect often seen inequalities in the ability of the rich to worry about absurd concerns about the desperate efforts of the working class to make ends meet. It also highlights the unethical efforts that prominent businessmen are taking today to secure power and wealth.
At its best, Jackson’s “The Sundial” is a poignant reflection of the plight of women’s empowerment and the inequalities experienced by the lower class. Additionally, the lingering absurdity of the Hallorans willingness to embrace the dubious apocalyptic proclamation makes it an eerily satisfying comic reward for its darker subjects. Overall, “The Sundial” is a masterful work of subverted expectations, creating a scathing social commentary that beautifully interweaves with moments of hilarity to provide a delightful read.
Mammas’ article is part of an ongoing column featuring reviews of classic books that one should read. Read the other articles here.