Gender presentation in Stephen King’s Carrie
Stephen King’s novel, Carrie, is an epistolary novel whose form has the tendency to confuse and disorient the reader. While King’s book was quite popular and successful enough to warrant several film adaptations, it is a bit of a shallow representation of the female psyche, represented by the slew of bitchy teenage high school girls and their quick to pack emotional responses, and Carrie’s lack of social acceptance and the building rage inside her.
In his nostalgic non-fictional journey through his book Danse Macabre, King writes “Carrie is largely about how women find their own channels of power, but also what men fear about women and women’s sexuality. Writing the book in 1973 and only three years out of college, I was fully aware of what Women’s Liberation implied for me and others of my sex. Carrie is a woman feeling her powers for the first time and, like Samson, pulling down the temple on everyone in sight at the end of the book.”
Carrie being compared to the biblical “Sampson” doesn’t quite hit the mark for me. Sampson brought down the temple as a last effort to please God when he learned humility, and there’s no lesson in humility here by Carrie, so I think it’s a bit of a stretch for King.
King goes on further to say that “[Horror] offers us a chance to exercise (that’s right; not exorcise but exercise) emotions which society demands we keep closely in hand. The horror film is an invitation to indulge in deviant, anti-social behavior by proxy—to commit gratuitous acts of violence, indulge our puerile dreams of power, to give in to our most craven fears. Perhaps more than anything else, the horror story or horror movie says it’s okay to join the mob, to become the total tribal being, to destroy the outsider” (Danse Macabre).
So, keeping King’s statement above in mind, I think Sue is one of the few characters with a strong sense of agency and power. She chooses to act and change her stance, “hardly anybody ever finds out their actions really, actually, hurt other people…I bet none of them understand what it’s like to be Carrie White (Carrie 98) while still holding the male assumption of power from being a sexually attractive female. Gender does play a role in the power structure of the novel because this is a book about feminine power and position, and Carrie’s snapping at the end shows the hidden power she (and women) have when it comes to being a woman and freed from pre-pubescent confusion. Though the account of gender is a smorgasbord of grossly exaggerated stereotypes
Did King craft the perfect female consciousness in Carried White? No. Not by a long shot, except for Carrie’s need to be accepted and her pain and humiliation of being teased. He does a good showing teen angst and the bullying and high school structure of power, but every woman is unique and it’s not representative of the overall female psyche simply because it’s overstated and at times represented through shallow diction that is borderlines fear-mongering, such as “some kind of instinct about menstruation that makes women want to snarl” (24). that is most likely being due to the fact that the author is male.
It seems to be a common theme in literature, this inaccurate literary embodiment of the female persona, though thankfully it seems that recently there has been a shift toward better representation of gender and equality in the sexes, both readers and authors still have a ways to go when it comes to leaving old institutionalized conventions behind. Though we’re definitely moving in the right direction.
Can we forgive the King of horror for such a slight against the female psyche through the portrayal of gender stereotypes?
by Danielle Kaheaku
Danielle is an award-winning screenwriter and editor, an active member of the HWA, SFWA, and RWA PAN, and the Training Director for the San Diego HWA. She holds both a BA in English from UHM and MA from SNHU, and is a freelance ghostwriter and editor, and has been published in both magazines and novel form, edited multiple anthologies, and produced two screenplays.
King, Stephen. Carrie. New York: Anchor Books, 1974.
King, Stephen. Danse Macabre. 1st ed. New York: Gallery, 2010. Print.