[In this essay dated June 15, 2009, J.D. discusses the use of the horror genre as a vihicle for a moral or political commentary.]

Stephen King:Political Activist, Family Counselor, or Horror Novelist:A Look into the use of a Horror Novel as the vehicle for a Political or Moral Message.


When we open the blood spattered cover and begin to flip past the pages of a horror novel the last thing that one would expect to find buried beneath copious amounts of crude weapons, gore, and piercing screams is a moral or political message.Even more surprising to the reader is when they stumble across this message within the pages of a book written by the master of horror, Stephen King.Still recovering from my own shock I began to realize that not only is there a hidden message, but it is spattered as thickly as blood across the pages of his novels.What I have begun to understand through my analysis of a few of King’s works is that the horror genre is not only an unexpected vehicle for delivering an opinion on social ethics, but it is the perfect vehicle.

Cell:The Horror Novel as a Political Statement.

Richard Feynman once said “For a successful technology, reality must take precedence over public relations, for Nature cannot be fooled”.We as a generation have obviously ignored Mr. Feynman’s wise advice.We now live in a world where 3D and “virtual” reality prevail.We teach our children not to value the substance of a book, or the enjoyment of an outdoor game, and instead place them in front of the television so they may sit and become the zombie generation, content to let the TV do the thinking for them.Cell phones and texting have replaced letters and conversation, and many experts predict that it is this technology that will be our downfall as a society, and Stephen King agrees.

It is this train of thought that King follows in his recent novel Cell.Clay, Tom, Alice, “The Head” and Jordan are some of the only survivors left after a devastating attack on our society.A “pulse” was sent out through the cell phones that effectively wipe out memories of any and all sense of self and humanity.The only thing left is what Jordan, a self-proclaimed computer geek, calls “the Prime Directive”.In essence, the Prime Directive is murder; mankind is pre-programmed to do whatever it takes, eliminate any and all competition, in order to stay at the top of the food chain.The only thing that has kept us from remaining murderous is evolution:we became a society where there are rules and propriety.But, as the head so eloquently puts it:“What Darwin was too polite to say, my friends, is that we came to rule the earth not because we were the smartest, or even the meanest, but because we have always been the craziest most murderous (expletive deleted) in the jungle.” (p 206)

While something of this caliber has not yet happened to our society, King has dramatized what is indeed occurring in the world today.The pulse turned the majority of the human race into zombie-like creatures.Is this really so far from what is happening now?We have given ourselves over to products that claim to make our lives easier, better and faster, and have become slaves to technology.We still have but one goal in mind:to get ahead.Is not every decision that we make dictated by this tamed version of the prime directive?We have used technology as an aid to achieve what the prime directive subconsciously tells us, but technology has become our enemy, not our helper.It has turned us into a society incapable of having a decent, articulate conversation, and has even begun to chip away at our individuality.King uses several devices in order to prove this point.The most prevalent are diction and foreshadowing.

One would think that foreshadowing in a horror novel is self-defeating.Isn’t the lack of foreshadowing the point of the horror genre; to keep us in the dark about any possible ending so that when we come to it we are both surprised and scared out of our minds?I thought so, until I began reading Stephen King’s novels.Not only does he use foreshadowing, but he uses it in copious amounts.It is found even more commonly than the blood and gore that you would expect to find on the pages of his novels.

One of the most brilliant uses of foreshadowing that I came across in Cell is found on page 90:“All the houses were dark – the power was out now – and they might have been deserted, except he seemed to feel eyes, surveying them.”The excerpt is taken from just a few hours after the original pulse was sent out.It foreshadows multiple things.The most immediate thing that comes to mind is that they are not safe where they are.Someone is indeed watching them, and they will be found.But this passage foreshadows something else:that they will never be safe.They will be watched always, by no means safe, or hidden.

This passage is already beautifully written.It is able to foreshadow both the clear and present danger, but also the danger that they will face, and will never be able to hide from.But this passage is brilliant for yet another reason.From the moment we, or any other animal for that matter, is born we have the need to either be protected or protect ourselves.We are given what many call a sixth sense that enables us to feel when we are being watched or hunted.Even when we are children this feeling exists, presenting itself in the form of a monster under the bed.It is this ability to play on our most primal fears that makes Stephen King the master of the horror genre.

Another tool that Stephen King utilizes in diction.His word choice paints for us a vivid picture of this new terrifying world that the pulse has created.On page 54 the protagonist, Clay, tells the reader:“There were explosions that never seemed to come singly but rather in spasms.”King’s use of the word “spasms” is interesting.A more common and accepted choice would have been the word “waves” or “several at once”.The connotations of “spasms” are varied, but some of the few that spring immediately to mind are “pain” and “suffering”.I believe that this was in fact Stephen King’s intent.The word choice here could also be considered another form of foreshadowing, that the band of survivors will face more suffering and anguish in the days and weeks to come, and that this pain will never “come singly” but come all at once.

Through the use of diction and foreshadowing, and by turning our own primal fears against us, King is able to use his novel as a means to distribute a message.Though he is by no means saying that terrorists are going to use cell phones to wipe away our humanity, he is attempting to warn us that we are beginning to walk down a very dangerous road.There is no telling where new technological advances may bring us in the coming years, but let us hope that we do not lose all sense of self in the journey to get there.

The Shining:A Commentary on the Effects of Alcoholism on a Family.

Stephen King has used his novels to make political statements.While analyzing his novel The Shining, however, I was surprised to find a different kind of statement:a moral one.It is understandable that a horror novel may be used as a device to get out a political message to the masses, but is it possible to place morality amongst the blood and carnage that usually accompanies a horror novel?Apparently so, because Stephen King uses The Shining, a novel about the Torrance family, who become the snowbound winter caretakers of the haunted Overlook Hotel, as a disguise for an anti-drinking campaign.

Alcoholism is one of the most dreadful diseases known today.It has the ability to hurt people both emotionally and physically, destroy families, and even take lives.Alcoholism is a horrific entity in and of itself.King exploits this fact, and embellishes the complete loss of control that occurs when we drink.In order to express this total loss of inhibition and sanity, King uses foreshadowing, repetition, and symbolism.

Once again King utilizes foreshadowing to give the reader a fuller understanding of the message that he is placing forth.As with Cell, foreshadowing is used copiously.Even in the first few pages of the novel, King begins to hint at what will occur.On page 15 we find Wendy, the mother in the Torrance family, weeping “In grief and loss for the past, and terror of the future.”Her grief for the past stems from an incident that occurred two years previously, when Jack, her husband and then alcoholic, broke her son Danny’s arm in a fit of drunken rage.This incident allowed her to see for the first time what a monster her husband is.For a long time she considered divorcing him, but stayed with him for Danny’s sake as well as the love that she still had for Jack.Jack quit drinking not long after the incident, but has only been sober for six months at the time the novel takes place.As such, he is still extremely vulnerable to temptation.

We can now easily understand her reasons for weeping for the past:her lost love, her happy life forever altered, and the man she loves hurting the child she would lay down her life to protect.But this begs the question:why is she weeping for things that have not yet occurred?Does she sense that Jack will hurt Danny again, and is terrified at the very thought?Her tears are not without reason, for the past does repeat itself, just as Wendy’s preemptive tears foreshadowed.The hotel takes over Jacks susceptible mind, and he looks to murder both Danny and his wife.

King also foreshadows the novel’s events through the use of repetition.The phrase “You lost your temper” first appears on page 16 and repeats throughout the novel.Jack uses it as an excuse for when he broke Danny’s arm, and tries to console himself by repeating over and over in his mind that it was just an accident: “you lost your temper”.This repetition of thought is used to affirm the premonition that Wendy has that Jack will hurt them again.Something will happen in the Overlook Hotel, Jack will lose his temper again, and she and Danny will pay the price.

On page 4 while visiting the hotel for the first time, Jack makes the observation that “every hotel in the world has a rat or two”.This is an example of symbolism.The term rat, often referring to the animal, is also a slang term used to describe “a person who abandons or betrays his or her party” (www.dictionary.com).Not only does this perfectly describe Jack, who has completely abandoned his family and betrayed his promise not to drink again, but it also describes Grady.Grady, along with his family, was the first winter caretaker of the Overlook Hotel, the position that the Torrance family now fills.He too was an alcoholic, and like Jack was taken over by the Hotel when he gave himself over to the drink.The hotel has certainly had its “rats” in the past, and is about to get another in the form of Jack Torrance.

By using the horror novel as a vehicle for both political and moral messages, Stephen King is able to put his views out into the world in a format that today’s people are able to easily access.Alcoholism is deadly, and technology leads to loss of humanity and individuality, and thanks to the horror novel people are now hearing these messages, and pondering the possible truth behind them.In the words of Verizon wireless:“Can you hear me now?”

(J.D. 2009)

In this essay dated June 11, 2012, M.H. discusses the use of literature as a vessel for political commentary.]
Stephen King: Under the Dome and The Stand used to express political views


Stephen King uses his novels as a vessel for political commentary, commenting on the leadership and role of government. King questions the influence and power of theUnited Statesmilitary, and the power of the president, and how a single individual has the ability to control the actions of an entire nation. Both novels also comment on the nature of humans in a time of crisis, and how seeking power and glory turn honest intentions into horrific, selfish actions.

Under the Dome: A novel


“Under the Dome” is a vessel used by Stephen King to express his frustration and annoyance at the Bush Administration in reaction to 9/11. He felt that President Bush reacted poorly to the 9/11 attack, and acted incompetently in response. King decided to model the leader’s ofChester’s Mill, the fictionalMainetown in “Under the Dome,” after the Bush-Cheney dynamic. The leaders Big Jim Rennie and Andy Sanders reacted angrily to the Dome, and thus over used their power. The Dome acts as a magnifying glass, speeding up the reactions to seemingly minor events, and distorting major events that occur. The actions of Big Jim Rennie may have originally been honest, but with his endeavors in the crystal meth business and thirst for riches, his actions negatively affect the entire town, ending in the deaths of many.

The political statement King expresses is surprising in the genre of horror. The isolated town acted as a mini version of theUnited States, a sped up viewing box for the world to see. The military blocked these views however. The power of the military cut communication to and from the trapped town ofChester’s Mill. This lack of communication hid the dire effects of the lawless town and environmental woes. Hiding this town prevented the public from understanding the effects of their actions, as they had been displayed byChester’s Mill.

Also, King expresses views concerning the impact of human existence on the environment. The Earth is the human population’s Dome, trapping us and supplying life and death. When humans abuse the environment, they abuse the thing that gives them life. “Under the Dome” illustrates the possible outcome of constant abuse and misuse of the planet, and the detrimental affects it can have. The several hundred that lived inChester’s Mill the day of the arrival of the Dome soon find themselves in an environmental disaster that results in the deaths of nearly the entire population.

The Stand: Captain Trips, On The Border, The Stand


“The Stand” questions of the power of Big Brother over the people of theUnited States. In the novel, the military has created bio-weaponry, in the form of a super flu called Captain Trips. King here questions the power the government has to create such harmful diseases as a method of warfare, and questions the American people’s willingness to allow such things to continue without their knowledge.

Also, King communicates a moral statement on the nature of people. As two groups have survived the apocalypse of the super flu, the ensuing fight of good and evil describes the differences in human nature in the fight for power, and the willingness to follow. The power struggle ends in the loss of life, the ultimate tragedy. King uses “The Stand” to illustrate the potential of humans to destroy themselves and other species to the point where no life is possible on Earth, unless good is able to triumph evil.

(MH 2012)

11/22/63: A Novel
[In this essay, dated June 17, 2013, A.W. discusses the idea that a person’s past will always stay with him/her, as demonstrated by Steven King in 11/22/63.]

The past is the past. What happened before any given moment in time will always stay that way, unless an individual has a time machine; and even then it may not leave them. In the novel 11/22/63 by Stephen King, King explores this idea of a person’s past always staying with them and even harmonizing, whether they have control of it or not.

Jake Epping, the main character in the story, is a recently divorced man. Just a few years before the beginning of the book he was married to a woman who was an alcoholic. The experiences they shared, both ups and downs, are brought up by Jake over the course of the novel. Since the book is actually written as a story by Jake, there are no shortages of detail and personal reflections. Often times, Jake would be performing a rather mundane task when he flashed back to a time him and his ex used to do that same task. More frequently, however, the flashbacks were to point out the negatives of his ex; what she took away from him or how he had to babysit her when she came home drunk.

The experiences of babysitting and acting as a guardian to his wife actually came back to be beneficial to him when he travels to the past. After his new love, Sadie, and him have a falling out near the middle of the book Jake puts some distance between himself and Sadie. One night, he decides he needs to see her and drives to her house. He finds her drunk and nearly dead after overdosing on sleeping pills, but acts quickly and saves her. This creates a harmony between his future life and past life.

After knowing Sadie for a bit of time, the reader is exposed to her insane ex-husband, John Clayton. He had many odd behaviors, of which many are unimportant to this theme. One that is necessary to mention is his need to be in control. John Clayton makes an appearance in the novel when he becomes jealous of Sadie and Jake and decides to punish Sadie for it. He slashes down the left side of Sadie’s face and later kills himself when Jake tries to rescue her. This slash becomes a scar, and forever is engrained on her face. Her character is changed by this, and even after Jake resets the past, her character is still changed. This alteration was a positive one, however. She becomes more confident in her own skin over time and begins to stand up for herself. In her next life she becomes a humanitarian, mayor, and was chosen as “citizen of the century”.

The most memorable reoccurring event within this story was the multiple dance scenes. One of them was with kids, another was a flashback to Jake and his ex wife, and the rest were between Jake and Sadie. These dances brought the two together like nothing else. Before they even had a full conversation, the two of them could dance as if they had rehearsed it over and over. The dancing is most important when King uses it to tie the story together. In the final scene, when Jake goes to visit the Sadie that never knew him, they end up lindy hopping to their songs: “In the Mood” by Glen Miller and “At the Hop” by Danny & the Juniors. The novel ends how it should, with a harmony between past, present, and memories.

Although Jake’s experiences in the past will only be remembered by himself, they are none the less still experiences he has been through. These experiences result in memories that cannot be forgotten, and often are harmonized by experiences later in life.

[In this essay, dated June 17, 2013, A.W. analyzes Steven King’s description of the past in 11/22/63, and how he creates an afterlife setting through this description.]

Some areas are beyond the reach of humans at this point in our history. Although we may be able to look across the universe, inside of a cell, or even travel to the moon, we cannot jump forward or backward in time or look into life after death. This is the point where authors, such as Steven King, step in and create these experiences for us. In the novel 11/22/63, the main character, Jake Epping, is presented with a portal to a single day in 1958. The world that Jake steps into is like a history book to him, but King presents it as an afterlife to the reader.

Al Templeton is an older man who owns a diner in the beginning of this novel. He serves as an overseer and godlike figure throughout the story. He is the only person from Jake’s time that knows about the portal. He used the passageway as a source of inexpensive food supplies for his restaurant, but also to attempt to change the past. Al toyed with smaller changes and succeeded, which then sparked his desire to do more.

The idea for stopping the Kennedy assassination was originally Al’s idea. He was living back in time for many years before he was forced to come back due to lung cancer. During this time, he kept a notebook with details about Oswald, but also about important events and outcomes of sporting events for betting as a source of income. After returning to the present, he passed this notebook down to Jake. This book was a source of guidance, and one could say Jake followed its instructions religiously. The use of the notebook as an ultimate source of guidance reiterates the sense of an afterlife-like setting. In addition, multiple times throughout the novel, Jake is visited by Al in dreams and visions. These visions provide Jake with assistance in his mission and aid him in thinking through his actions.

A minor character that appears only a few times in 11/22/63 is the Yellow Card Man. This character is both a symbol and a prophet-type character. The Yellow Card Man symbolizes a guardian of the afterlife, such as an angel. Not only does this character keep an eye on the portal and ensure that it does not become abused, but he watches over Jake during his time in the past. Yellow Card Man is a prophet because of the card that is always present on his hat. Based on the color of the card the reader can tell the severity Jake’s actions will have on the future. For example, a black card means a hellish future with little happiness, while green implies that there will be little effect.

As Jake discovers, there are penalties for changing the past excessively, even if he thinks it’s for the better. After stopping the assassination of Kennedy Jake has no other options but to return back to “go back and see exactly what [he has] done” (King 798). What he returns to is not what he expected.
After Kennedy survives, what remains is a bleak and horrifying world that is living in a sort of “dark age”. This war is the result of nuclear war, natural disasters, and widespread bombings of all major cities. Just as the biblical plagues were a punishment for wrongful actions and treatment of others, these “plagues” are a result of wrongful alterations of the past. The only way to rid the world of these changes is to go back in time once again and “reset” the present for one last time.

Time travel is a topic that seems impossible to most people, and for good reason. It is a magical idea that only exists in stories and dreams. While there may be more of an argument about the presence of an afterlife, it is still unproven. In the novel 11/22/63, King brings these two worlds together. He uses Al as a symbol of god, the Yellow Card Man as an angel and prophet, and the results of Jakes actions as plagues to create parallels between an afterlife and the past.





The Shining





(June 1, 2016) In this essay, SRO will discuss the use of insanity through the main character of Jack Torrance.





The Shining, is a novel that follows the family of a recovering alcoholic father, Jack Torrance who has acquired a job as the winter caretaker of The Overlook Resort in Colorado. As the snow begins to fall, the family is cut off from all outside communication allowing for cabin fever to take over Jack’s mind, destroying his sanity. Through the use of foreshadowing, influence of outside characters, and a changing point of view Stephen King portrays the disappearance of Jack’s sanity as he enters the realm of insanity.

Throughout the novel, Jack’s son Danny has a series of dreams that predict future events in the life of his family and or himself. Mr. Halloran, an employee at The Overlook called these predictions the shine, hence the title of the novel The Shining. Danny receives these visions through his imaginary friend named Tony, most which involve Jack’s descent into insanity. Danny while being examined by a town physician entered into a trance, seeing “a whistling mallet striking silk papered walls, knocking out whiffs of plaster dust” (King 208). This shine foreshadowed the event of when his father had entered a murderous fit searching the halls for Danny so that he could be “taught a lesson”. Also while at the office of the physician, Tony tells Danny “This inhuman place makes human monsters” (King 208). This phrase is fulfilled when Jack finally loses his grip on the real world and is enveloped in the world of the hotel, becoming a pawn of the permanent hotel guests. Before Jack was the winter caretaker of The Overlook, a man by the name of Delbert Grady was in that position. Mr. Grady had two children and a wife, and during the deep winter months Grady similar to Jack had become insane, killing his wife, children and later himself. This tragedy foreshadowed what would occur to Jack, although he failed at trying to kill his family. Before Jack was at The Overlook he was a prep school professor who was also an alcoholic when after a few “Martians” (Martinis) would become very violent, similar to his father. One night after heavy drinking Jack broke Danny’s arm because Danny had spilled beer onto some of Jack’s important papers. After that episode, Jack went “on the wagon”, later becoming the caretaker of The Overlook. As the snow began to fall, “Jack’s drinking symptoms had come back, one by one all but the drink itself” (King 281). With these symptoms, violence would not be far behind, foreshadowing Jack’s murderous rampage. The murder- suicide of the first caretaker, Danny’s shine and Jack’s alcoholism all contribute to the foreshadowing of Jack’s insanity.

Jack did not push himself to insanity, he was pushed to that point by outside characters such as Wendy, his father, and also the hotel itself. Wendy, always fearing that her husband would begin drinking again would always interrogate her husband when he would appear before her. She would inhale deeply, looking for a scent of any alcoholic beverage. These constant questions drove Jack into the recesses of his mind, allowing for insanity to take over. In chapter 20, Jack stated “nag and nag and nag until you wanted to clout her one just to shut her up and stop the endless flow of questions” (King 259). The word clout refers to hitting someone,

showing that Wendy’s barrage of questions drove Jack to insanity and allowed him to beat his wife and Mr. Halloran senselessly with a roque mallet. Jack’s father, Mark Anthony Torrance was also an alcoholic who regularly beat his children. In one scene, Jack recalls how Mark had beat Jack’s mother with a heavy cane while exclaiming “Now. Now by Christ. I guess you’ll take your medicine now. Goddam puppy. Whelp” (King 330). These are the same words that Jack would use continuously when on the hunt for his son and while beating his wife. Jack, like his father also beat his children, twice while drunk and once while sober. These beatings show the influence of Jack’s father in Jack. In chapter 26, Mark tells Jack through a dream “Kill him. You have to kill him, Jacky, and her, too. Because a real artist must suffer” (King 335). Jack, who always loved his father, subconsciously followed those orders, attempting to end Wendy and Danny’s lives. Lastly, the influence of The Overlook itself drove Jack insane. The “management” of The Overlook placed its secret into a “large white book bound with gold string. It was a scrapbook” (King 207). Jack would stay in the basement for hours on end looking at The Overlook’s colorful history such as the gangland shooting in the presidential suite. The permanent residents of The Overlook also played a part in Jack “losing his marbles”. Such as Lloyd the bartender and Delbert Grady who told Jack to sabotage the family's only escape off the mountain and also to “correct” his son and wife so that Jack could become permanent manager of The Overlook. The outside influences that surrounded Jack Torrance drove him to insanity by planting ideas and releasing inner demons that had haunted Jack for years.

Through changing point of view, Jack’s thoughts are visible showing his mental decay. In the novel, author Stephen King uses parentheses and italics to represent the thought process of the characters. King moves from the point of view of each character so the reader can contemplate their thoughts and also to observe how they are reacting to the conditions surrounding them. After threatening to expose the dirty secrets of The Overlook such as the gangland shooting and the murderous rampage of Delbert Grady, Jack receives a call from Al Shockley, a stakeholder in The Overlook who threatens to fire Jack and put his family on the street. While talking with Al, Jack’s speech is unapologetic and almost cocky in tone but once he hangs up he realizes his stupidity. “I’m sorry Al. Grace, your mercy. For your mercy. One more chance. I am heartily sorry-” (King 272). This mental apology is a stark difference from the man who appeared fearless in the face of danger, his appearance is almost defeated. As the story progresses Jack’s thoughts become more sporadic and sinister. In chapter 26 he hears his father’s voice asking to “tune immediately to the Happy Hour Frequency” (King 334), Happy Hour refers to drinking alcohol and when Jack drinks he becomes violent allowing for the hotel to fully take over his mind. In chapter 32, nearing the end of the novel Jack continues to lose his grip in the real world. He ponders the idea of living on the street with his wife, when one thought hits him “kill her” (King 396). He does not dismiss the idea right away, he contemplates the logistics of killing his wife. He even remembers how much life insurance he has for her if something were to happen. This thought of killing his wife shows that Jack is slowly becoming a part of the hotel and is no longer Jack Torrance but an empty shell which the evil of The Overlook has embodied.

In conclusion, through the use of foreshadowing, a changing point of view and the influence of outside characters Stephen King portrays the insanity of Jack Torrance as he is consumed by The Overlook Hotel. Due to Jack’s history of alcoholism becoming consumed by the hotel was not difficult, by entering the realm of the hotel he could continue the ruse of being under the influence of alcohol finding a sort of eternal peace. Although Jack Torrance had stopped himself from killing his son, his mind was fully consumed by the hotel and there was no way for him to escape back to reality with his wife and son. He was contempt with staying with the smoldering ruins of the hotel where he would stay for eternity.



( SRO 2016)