‘One Ordinary Day, With Peanuts’ by Shirley Jackson

Jackson, Shirley 1955

One Ordinary Day, With Peanuts by Shirley Jackson, 1955

The magic trick:

Totally reshaping in the final five paragraphs everything you thought you understand about the story 

Just as we saw in “The Lottery,” Shirley Jackson has quite a way with the jaw-dropping ending. She’s at again in “One Ordinary Day, With Peanuts.” The shock is particularly severe because the story’s first nine pages are so winningly sweet. Jackson sweeps the reader up in Mr. Johnson’s saintly behavior, and she’s so creative in giving him act after act, gesture after gesture of the kindest kind of kindness. You want to believe he is some kind of divine figure. Jackson, of course knowing that she has manipulated you into just such a fit of happy expectation, drops the hammer in the story’s final five paragraphs, leaving the reader scrambling to reassess their perception of the entire story. Note, also, that in doing so, Jackson has fulfilled the God-like role that Mr. and Mrs. Johnson seek to play each day. Clever, clever! And that’s quite a trick on Jackson’s part.

The selection:

“That’s what bothers me most about people nowadays,” Mr. Johnson complained broadly to the people passing. “No matter whether they’ve done anything or not, they always figure someone’s after them. About what you’re going to do,” he told the young man.

“Listen,” said the young man, trying to brush past him, “I’m late, and I don’t have any time to listen. Here’s a dime, now get going.”

“Thank you,” said Mr. Johnson, pocketing the dime. “Look,” he said, “what happens if you stop running?”

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