Carrie was Stephen King’s first book, published in 1974, and remains one of his most popular pieces of work.
It's the prom night from Hell, a tragedy that affected the people of Chamberlain, Maine and the media. Carrie White wasn’t just a teenage girl, she had the gift of telekinesis. She lived her whole life in abuse from her overly religious mother Margaret and from bullies at school. When Tommy Ross asks her to the prom, at the request of his girlfriend Sue Snell, Carrie thought her dreams had come true. Meanwhile, while evil girl Chris Hargensen plans a vicious prank that goes horribly wrong.
The book has an interesting structure. It’s non-linear and is almost like a case study on the horrific event and Carrie White herself. There are no real chapter breaks; the novel is in two parts with an epilogue. Instead, there are scenes that are separated by extracts from made-up newspaper articles, book extracts, fake interviews, etc. The book is also relatively short compared to most of other Stephen King’s works; the copy I own is 242 pages long.
Despite being the title character, Carrie feels less of a protagonist and more of a subject. She was considered by many people talking to the media as ugly and overweight, incredibly shy and awkward. In scenes where the reader gets to spend with time with her, she displays rebellion against her mother, even using profanity.
It’s suggested she was never a weak person, just that people made her think she was. When Carrie discovers her powers, she’s able to stand up for herself and let her true self come out. She also displays quite a sense of humour, especially at the prom with Tommy and his friends, telling jokes. Her physical flaws are emphasised quite a bit in the first half, being overweight, spotty and having colourless hair, while the second half the narrator states that in fact Carrie is beautiful.
Margaret is highly religious and mentally unstable. She’s quite reclusive and looks down on other people, believing everything they do is a sin. Miseducated, she believes puberty in girls is unnatural and is a part of God’s punishment. She believes that breasts are ‘dirty pillows’ given to girls as punishment for their sins and periods are the ‘curse of blood’ and deliberately not telling Carrie out of fear and retain her innocence. As a result, when Carrie gets her first period in the school showers, she believed she was bleeding to death. The girls in the locker room laughed at her and threw tampons at her.
Gym teacher Miss Dejardin is at first disgusted with Carrie and slaps her during the shower incident, but she regrets it and apologises to her. She becomes almost like a surrogate mother for Carrie and a stark contrast to Margaret. She heavily sympathises with Carrie, trying to comfort her and severely punishes the girls who bullied her.
Sue feels really bad about bullying Carrie and attempts to make it up to her by convincing her boyfriend to take Carrie to prom in her place. Chris is the ringleader of the girls who bullied Carrie, when refusing to go to detention Chris is banned from attending prom.
Chris has little to no redeeming qualities; she’s spoilt, sociopathic with a history of bullying several girls brutally. She constructs a plan with her abusive and controlling boyfriend Billy and friends Norma and Tina to slaughter pigs for their blood and rig the prom ballots so Carrie would be crowned Prom Queen and dump the blood on her.
It is very much an anti-bullying story, an allegory for real-life tragedies caused by such abuse that went too far, with the telekinesis used as a metaphor for finding your inner power and the misuse of it. Carrie discovers her gift after she gets her first period, which symbolises her transition into womanhood. Margaret’s belief in puberty as a sin is a metaphor for parents' fear of watching their child become an adult and desperately trying to preserve their innocence.
Stephen King wrote a beautiful book that deserves to be taught in literature as a tragic cautionary tale. A must for any book reader who is a fan of horror and dark fantasy. It’s dark and disturbing, also bit of a twisted fairytale.
With the rise of Stephen King adaptations recently, this is currently still the most adapted with three films. It’s now fitting that I review all of them, starting with the first.
Written by Jack Parish