Stephen King's Works as a Reflection of Today's Society
Stephen King is one of the most successful writers today. He has published hundreds of works, including novels, novellas, and short stories. Many of his works have been turned into movies that have proved just as popular. Is this simply because he is a good writer or simply because he writes horror? Considering that there are many other writers of horror that haven't experienced anywhere near the popularity, it is suggested that there is something more to the work of Stephen King. A consideration of his work will show that his popularity is closely linked to today's society. In fact, his work can be considered a reflection of today's society, showing what modern society wants to read and think about, showing the concrete issues that concern people, and showing how people want to explore, understand, and overcome the deep psychological struggles of life.
Stephen King's works can first be considered a reflection of today's society simple because they are so popular. This popularity means that King's writings are what people want to read. The next question is, what exactly does this say about today's society? Firstly, it could means that people want to read horror. However, this statement does not reflect the real value of King's work. Certainly, King's works are of the horror genre. But there is also much more to them than that. Collings (202) expresses this clearly saying that King,
... has used his facility with the conventions of horror fiction to achieve more than base titillation and terror. From the beginning, his books have been constructed not only on strong narratives and intriguing characters but also on insights into contemporary American society in the closing quarter of the twentieth century.
This illustrates that King's work is significant not because of the genre that he writes in, but because of how he uses that genre. Essentially, he uses the genre to write about real issues and to explore real concerns. It is also worth noting that horror is one of the most suitable genres for these kinds of explorations. Using this genre, a writer can present events and issues that would not normally occur in real life. A writer can also take events to their extremes. In On Writing (123), Stephen King writes that you should write about "Anything you damn well want. Anything at all ... As long as you tell the truth." Considering the nature of King's works, it can at first seem strange that he considers it important that you write the truth. After all, his works are hardly based on real events that could actually happen. However, he explains this statement shortly after saying that, "the heart also knows things, and so does the imagination" (King On Writing 123). This shows that his works may not be based on real events, but they are based on real truths. Horror is a means of taking these truths and putting them in an imaginary world where they can be explored in depth. Returning to the idea that Stephen King's works reflect today's society, they can be seen as showing that people want to consider and explore major issues. Today's society does not want pure escapism. Instead, they want something that will offer them greater meaning. In past eras, this may have been achieved by poetry, plays, or literary fiction. In today's society, the general populations wants to consider major issues and themes, and Stephen King delivers a means of doing so in a way that it also entertaining.
This leads to a consideration of the types of issues that Stephen King explores in his work. Collings notes the close links between the themes explored and the concerns associated with current life. Collings (203) suggests that Carrie and Rage both consider flaws in the education system, Christine is an exploration of people's love-hate relationship with cars, while The Shining, It, and Rose Madder deals with the failure of the American family. King himself also seems to recognize that his work deals with current issues, saying that all horror can be considered as serving as a barometer for the things that currently trouble a society (King Danse Macabre 131). Certainly, considering the issues present in King's work is like compiling a list of the issues that trouble society. As well as those noted above, there are issues of child abuse and racism present in Bag of Bones. Needful Things raises questions about the problems of consumerism, especially suggesting that the human need for things might be pushed to a level where people become destructive to each other. Rose Madder deals with issues related to spousal abuse, following the story of Rose, who has been beaten by her husband for 14 years. Finally, there is Pet Sematary, which deals with the human need to confront and understand death, or perhaps the human need to want to control and escape death. The consideration of all of these issues shows that King's works deal with real concerns related to modern life. King certainly considers these issues through unusual stories that are not based on real life. However, the issues that are taken as the basis for the books are based on reality. Finally, it must be noted that King's use of these issues as the basis for the books only tells half the story. If only this was considered, King's work might be considered just as representing what King thinks about society. The point that refutes this relates to how popular King's works are. King may be a great writer, but there is more to his popularity than this. The reason for King's popularity is something he mentions himself in On Writing, where he notes that people want to read a book when the reader "hears strong echoes of his or her own life and beliefs" (King On Writing 125). King's subjects attract people because they are based not just on what he thinks is worth writing about, but because he captures what the general population is interested in. This shows that the issues dealt with in King's work really are a reflection of society, in that they represent the issues and concerns of society as a whole.
As well as the more concrete concerns such as those above, there are also some deeper themes present in King's work. These go beyond just the issues that concern society as a whole and go to a more psychological level. King describes this in Danse Macabre, where he notes that horror deals with issues on two levels. The first is the concrete one as described above. The second is something more primitive and more basic. As King explains,
... The work of horror really is a dance -- a moving, rhythmic search. And what it's looking for is the place where you, the viewer or the reader, live at your most primitive level (King Danse Macabre 2).
King also goes on to say that these concerns are separate to the current social concerns and just as relevant to a modern man as to an ancient man living in a cave. This shows that King is referring to a greater need, which is a need to understand the world and ourselves. In Danse Macabre, King also notes that horror can be divided into two categories. The first is horror where the reason for the horror comes from some outside source, such as a monster, werewolf, or alien. The second is psychological horror, where the reason for the horror comes from within the character. King states that psychological horror "explores the terrain of the human heart" (King Danse Macabre 62). King's work falls into this second category. It is about characters that have both good and evil and often involves circumstances where the evil side of them begins to dominate. Magistrale (25) agrees with this point, arguing that all of King's works are about the presence of both good and evil in people. King's works then, can be seen as representing the struggles that all people have to manage. This relates back to King's own words where he notes that his books are so popular because "readers recognize the people in a book, their behaviors, their surroundings, and their talk" (King On Writing 125). The most important idea is that readers are recognizing something of themselves in the main character. When they read about the main character Carrie struggling with herself as she continues to be ridiculed by her peers and her mother, there is a part of the reader that can understand her behavior. Her struggle between doing the right thing and reacting is something the reader can relate to. When Carrie's evil side wins her over, the reader can also understand this. When Louis in Pet Sematary loses his son, the reader can understand that he will take any opportunity to bring him back, even if bringing a person back from the dead is doing something completely unnatural. In The Shining, the reader…