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The Dystopian Vision of Stephen King

Stephen King has received considerable attention for his treatment of what Brian Ash calls the theme of a darkening world (Ash 86). [Faces of the Future, 1975] Less familiar is the fact that, from the beginning of his career, King has concerned himself with the complex implications of science and technology, so much so that the horror he evokes often seems inseparable from the dangers of imperious science and runaway machinery of many sorts.

The anti-technological slant of King’s writing links it with one of the primary preoccupations of twentieth-century science fiction. Like many avowed science fiction writers, moreover, King shares the modern dystopian notion that calamity rather than enlightenment, peace, and security will result from the erroneous utopian premises of the technoscientific world view. Beneath the mayhem which permeates King’s fiction lie interrelated, troubling questions about the power, extent, and validity of science and rationalism in contemporary society.

King, then, may be read as more than simply a writer of gothic horror fables. Douglas Winter points out that in 1954 55 King began to compose stories emulating the science fiction that he read (Winter 9). [Stephen King, 1982] King’s own analysis of the horror genre, Danse Macabre (1980), mentions Isaac Asimov, Arthur C. Clarke, and his favorite science fiction writer, John Wyndham. Danse Macabre likewise makes several important observations about science fiction, tales of terror, and kindred genres.

Horror, King claims, explores fears which exist across a broad spectrum of people. Such fears, which are often political, economic, and psychological rather than supernatural, give the best work of horror a pleasing allegorical feel (Danse Macabre 18). Horror clearly can exceed the supernatural, and horror does not have to be nonscientific (Danse Macabre 30), for King stresses that science fiction and horror overlap, as do utopian and dystopian literature (Danse Macabre 30).

Additionally, Danse Macabre offers a definition of technohorror which provides a useful perspective on his work. The sub-text of the technohorror film, King maintains, suggests that we have been betrayed by our own machines and processes of mass production (Danse Macabre 156). As examples of technohorror he cites the mutant and radiation movies of the 1950s; the more recent vision of technology as an octopus perhaps sentient burying us alive in red-tape and information retrieval systems which are terrible when they work … nd even more so when they don’t ; and contemporary versions of an archtype: the brilliant mind dangerously hypnotized by the siren song of technology (Danse Macabre 159 60).

Apparently, for King, horror can focus on major technological fears; the concern he voices in Danse Macabre over technological missteps rises to a clamor in his fiction (Danse Macabre 374). Douglas Winter notes that the technological horror theme is an obvious exploitation of the subversive tendencies of horror fiction (Winter 82).

These subversive tendencies have dystopian implications, though King does not explicitly discuss the contemporary assumption that technohorror sounds a dystopian cry of discontent. Paul Buhle’s analysis of H. P. Lovercraft’s fiction points out that horror has a dystopian ring because it calls into questions affirmative culture ; dramatizes the increasingly empty faith in Progress which has saddled society; implies a suspicion about the control mechanisms of the state; and articulates a fear that science and social knowledge are pushing aside humanity and nature (Buhle 120). Minnesota Review 6(1975)]

King’s work can, perhaps, best be characterized as a blend of anti-technological science fiction, gothic horror motifs and dystopian premises. This mixture of motifs and metaphors has distinguished precedents, for example, Shelley’s Frankenstein, surely a prototypical horror story, but also an anti-technological, anti-utopian parable. A tenuous but definite link exists, moreover, between King’s nightmare vision and the dystopian tradition of Zamiatin, Orwell, and Huxley.

Generally, King addresses what Harold Berger considers the critical point in the interplay of man and science [when] man loses the savor of life or control of the course of events, or both. He articulates many of the primary fears generated by science and technology, especially mass anxieties about man’s survival, integrity, and compatibility with the natural universe (Berger 6, 200). [Science Fiction and the New Dark Age, 1976] When read allegorically, much of King’s work searches out a basic conflict: Can technological change be subordinated to human purposes? Fogg 60). Specifically, King writes of malevolent machines, those which take on capacities their makers did not intend; of irresponsible and incompetent technology; of the monolithic, technocratic governmental apparatus; of the debilitating effects technology has on its users; of technology’s ability both to cripple human awareness of the mystical and transcendent and to create illusory mythologies of its own; and of technology’s ominous power to destroy the human race.

Malevolent machines stand out in King, who begins by focusing on devilish machines themselves and the threat they pose to civilization, then proceeds to an illustration of the complex, perilous relationship of the mechanical to the humanistic, placing particular emphasis on the destructive psychological interplay of machines and their makers. The Mangler (1972) features a mechanical antagonist, a Model-6 Speed Ironer and Folder, something which appears at first to be an ordinary piece of laundry equipment.

A bizarre series of events, however, quickly differentiates the Mangler from ordinary industrial tools. Employees notice that the Mangler runs before anyone pulls the on switch. Soon it captures a victim and pulverizes her beyond recognition, and then a repairman loses an arm when the machine starts, apparently at its own command. These episodes lead detective Hunton, who has been investigating Model-6, to conclude that it is demonically possessed.

Purely by accident, it seems, the correct combination of magical ingredients fell into the Mangler and enchanted it. When Hunton tries an exorcism, however, he discovers that he has used the wrong formula, a mistake which multiplies the machine’s power, allowing it to free itself from the laundry floor and pursue the now panic-stricken exorcist. In the closing paragraphs, Hunton waits, traumatized, for the hungry machine to devour him. This paper focuses on aspects of Stephen King’s writing and life.

The paper examines how others see Stephen King as a master of the macabre, but King himself has an aversion to being labeled into any single slot. It shows how in all his novels Stephen seems to echo the 20th century obsession with horror, where rather like in Frankenstein, the initial progress brought on by the industrial revolution has waned; and its darker side like the horrors of nuclear war hang over the earth like a threatening sword with a kind of doomsday scenario.

It discusses that if we trace the evolution of King as a writer from his early macabre days to his later fantasy novels, he seems to echo deep fears within us all, as we ultimately struggle through the darkness to reach love and light. “The protagonist, played by Tim Robbins, is Andy Dufresne, a reserved young banker convicted of killing his wife, even though the murder weapon was never found. When Andy arrives at Shawshank Prison, he befriends Red, played by Morgan Freeman.

He is the guy to see for black-market items, such as cigarettes, candy, and whatever else one might want. Freeman’s character narrates throughout the movie, giving insight into each character and how life operates inside prison. Red says that the first night is the toughest, “when they put you in that cell and those bars slam home, that’s when you know it’s for real. A whole life blown away in the blink of an eye. Nothing left but all the time in the world to think about it” (Shawshank 1994). “

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