King's The Man In The Black Suit
The modern concept of self, and the human trait of self-awareness, have been a part of humanity since recorded history -- as has the notion of good and evil, although clearly on a sliding scale. However, it was not until the Middle Ages that the concept of the self in relation to the choices of good and evil coalesced, moving away from the supernatural "the devil made me do it," and allowing for personal responsibility. That did not change the idea that the human individual always has a choice in their path -- the euphemistic fork in the road -- do we choose good, or do we choose evil? Stephen King's short story, The Man in the Black Suit, is a modern retelling of this conflict, albeit not in the traditional manner (King). King's Devil is more like his own Randy Flagg than some of the other portrayals offered in history -- for King, the Devil is not hidden, not polite or even a sophisticated tempter as was Leland Gaunt, but the embodiment of pure, unadulterated, evil incarnate -- and evil so palpable it reeks as did the emanations from King's own Tommyknockers.
Too, this is not the Faustian conception of the Devil, evil but not horrific, "Hell hath no limits… and where hell is, there must we ever be" (Goethe). Nor is this the conniving trickster Mr. Scratch, who battles for the idea of humanity in The Devil and Daniel Webster (Benet).
King is masterful and bringing us a recurrent archetype -- innocence vs. evil with Gary, now an 85-year-old man, languishing in a nursing home awaiting death. Gary reflects back to 1914, when he was nine, a time when his brother had just died of a bee sting,...
One afternoon Gary travels to a favorite fishing hole and, under the hot sun, dozes. Something awakens him -- the clap of a hand. He opens his eyes, only to find a bee, buzzing around his head, and a mysterious man in black standing near him. "I knew right away he was not a human being, because his eyes were the orangey-red of flames in a woodstove. I don't just mean the irises, because he had no irises, and no pupils, and certainly no whites….and even before he reached me, I recognized the aroma baking up from the skin under the suit -- the smell of burned matches. The smell of sulfur. The man in the black suit was the Devil" (King 53-4).
The malodorous, noxious grinning creature simply looks at Gary and tells him the most terrible of things -- almost as if he is looking at his bare soul; that his mother has died while he was away, of a bee sting no less, and that he is very hungry, and can think of nothing better to assuage his need than eating Gary. Realizing that he has but one chance, Gary throws his catch of fish at the Devil, who eagerly wolfs them down, and Gary runs like he never ran before, making his escape, finding that his mother is still alive. Despite his father taking him back to the pond, but finding signs that something was amiss and returning home, Gary is haunted by the incident for the rest of his life. Now, as an old man, his perspective has certainly changed -- but as death approaches he is unsure of what lies ahead. "The Devil came to me once, long ago; suppose he were to come again now? I am too old to run now…. I have no fine large brook trout…. I am old and my creel is empty. Suppose he were…
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