Stephen King’s Carrie is only at first sight a novel that deals with a girl with a gift of telekinesis. The outbursts of Carrie’s supernatural powers serve to intensify the horror of what she goes through every day, and the whole novel conveys an important message about the importance of dealing with all kinds of abuse.
The novel starts like an ordinary story about a seventeen year old girl who cannot fit in. The main narrative is followed by a mixture of fictional media, such as excerpts from a newspaper or scientific articles which deal with the phenomenon of telekinesis, reports about Carrie, her mother, and her behaviour.
‘Many of these narratives come from scientific sources or reputable university presses, allowing the reader to suspend disbelief. Also, the preponderance of scientific sources documenting the Black Prom and the t.k. phenomena give the comforting illusion that something like this can be prevented as knowledge allows us to contain it. But as we see at the end of the novel, that’s not really true.’ (Pulliam)
What happened in the end of the novel did not happen only because Carrie possessed the supernatural power. It was caused by external, social factors.
First factor is the bullying she goes through at school. The second factor is the abuse she suffers at home. In both cases, one of the main problems the bullying causes is Carrie’s inability to develop. At home, Carrie’s mother prevents her from growing up – being a grown-up is something forbidden for her, especially in terms of sexual development. Carrie’s normal, biological characteristics are presented to her like something sinful, and she is accused for something she cannot control.
There is a short episode in the book in which a woman named Stella Horan remembers Carrie and her mother. Carrie says to Stella that she will never have breasts because her mother says good girls do not have them. “…she looked at me defiantly and said that her momma had been bad when she made her and that was why she had them. She called them dirty pillows, as if it was all one word.“ (30) Carrie’s mother got angry when she saw her talking to Stella, who she considered to be rotten and corrupt, and ordered her to go into her closet and pray. Shortly after, chunks of ice and large stones started to fall from the sky. The first strong outburst of Carrie’s destructive power is a direct result of repression. The second outburst happens after Carrie gets her first period, which also triggers mother’s crazy accusations.
Besides her mother, Carrie’s classmates also prevent her from becoming a complete person. They tease her in order to establish their own identity, while at the same time undermining hers. They feel good when they divide themselves form Carrie and make her “the Other”. All teenagers have problems, but if they can find someone who is in worse state than they are, it gives them the sense of power. They establish themselves as a group which is superior to the isolated individual. A sense of belonging to the majority is more important than people want to admit.
‘The reality is that many adolescents in high school today are very abusive to each other. There are peer groups that will attack other kids verbally and emotionally, similar to a gang mentality. (…) If a teen or pre-teen doesn’t want to be a victim, they have to join a group.’ (Lehman)
The novel stresses the importance of developing one’s own independent identity, and that is exactly what Carrie could not do and what in the end made her kill all her peers. Even in the beginning of the novel, Carrie is full of suppressed rage. Her sorrow and frailty turn to anger, and she wishes to punish those who harmed her.
‘A penny lodged in a crack. She kicked it. Imagine Chris Hargensen all bloody and screaming for mercy. With rats crawling all over her face. Good. Good. That would be good. A dog turd with a foot-track in the middle of it. A roll of blackened caps that some kid had banged with a stone. Cigarette butts. Crash in her head with a rock, with a boulder. Crash in all their heads. Good. Good.’ (21)
In the end, Carrie becomes a monster, but it happens only because she knew no other way out. Bullying made her a monster, not her powers. When it comes to the importance of developing your own identity, it is interesting to stress that the only student who didn’t die at the prom is Sue Snell, the girl who showed some consideration to Carrie. She is the only one who did something outside the group mentality and followed her own sense of what’s right – her own identity.
‘Sue lives in part because her sense of self wasn’t dependant upon Carrie’s Otherness. Chris, on the other hand, dies because her sense of self is wholly dependent on seeing herself in relation to those she torments.’ (Pulliam)
As stated before, it was impossible for Carrie to become a complete person, and she learned from what she could experience. Monsters create monsters. And that is also the problem with any kind of abuse, as it has been shown that the abused often become abusers later in life. If a person never had the opportunity to experience nice and warm behaviour, it is hard to expect from them to become a nice and compassionate person.
The last paragraph of the novel is an excerpt of a fictional letter in which Amelia Jenks, who is not a character in the novel, describes her daughter who can move marbles without touching them. She also remembers that her grandmother could do similar things. This paragraph serves as a warning that Carrie’s case is not unique. On the contrary, it may happen more frequently than we think.
‘Because Carrie isn’t simply born a monster as is the case with earlier horror texts, there is also leaves open the possibility that more monsters like her can be made. While the White Commission concludes that Carrie was an aberration, and no others like her will be born, Sandra Jenks’ niece at the end of the novel demonstrates that this is untrue.’ (Pulliam)
This could also be understood as a warning that what happened to Carrie is something that happens again and again. Maybe the problem lies in the society, and if people stopped mistreating each other the problem would cease to exist. The supernatural power can, therefore, be seen as a defence mechanism that evolves in people because they cannot fend for themselves without some kind of unusual power. If the abuse stops, there will be no need for that kind of defence. Abuse is a sort of chain reaction which only creates more and more abuse.
‘Look at men who beat or intimidate their wives and scream at their kids. They’ve never learned to be effective spouses or parents. Instead, they’re really bullies.’ (Lehman)
And to end this post, I will quote something we all have to bear in mind, and try to deal with:
‘…the true horror comes when the reader recognizes that they could just as easily be one of the characters bullying Carrie – we all have it within ourselves to be a Chris Hargensen or a Billy Nolan.’ (http://crimeandpublishing.com/2011/02/14/stephen-king-carrie/)
And, I would add, we all have it within ourselves to be better than that.
King, Stephen. London: Hodder and Stoughton, 2007. Print.
Pulliam, June. ‘Carrie, Stephen King’. Louisiana State University. 14 October 2009. Web. 23 May 2012. <http://www.lsu.edu/faculty/jpullia/carrie.htm>
‘Stephen King – Carrie’. Crime and Publishing. 14 February 2011. Web. 23 May 2012. <http://crimeandpublishing.com/2011/02/14/stephen-king-carrie/>
Lehman, James. ‘The Secret Life of Bullies: Why They Do It – and How to Stop Them’. Empowering Parents. n.d. Web. 26 May 2012. <http://www.empoweringparents.com/Why-Do-Kids-Children-Teens-Bully-and-How-to-Stop-Bullies.php>