Have you ever experienced bullying in any way? Chances are that you have, and it’s a terrible thing. In my case, there’s plenty of moments that I wish I could forget about, but they’re so deeply burned into my memory that forgetting them is impossible.
Just like a certain blood stained girl with psychic powers and a whole lot of rage. As the first Stephen King novel to be published back in 1974, Carrie has endured as a tragic anti-Cinderella story with real human horrors at its core.
A lot of you probably know Carrie, having watched Brian de Palma’s 1976 adaptation or the 2013 remake. If you have, then you’ll have this striking image at the back of your mind right now. It’s an image that channels a variety of responses, and for me, sympathy is one of them.
King expertly builds towards this by not just showing the cruel treatment Carrie White suffers, such as being pelted with tampons in the midst of her first period, but by going into the perspectives of her schoolmates, like the guilt-ridden Sue Snell, who tries to atone for bullying Carrie by asking her boyfriend, Tommy, to take Carrie to the ill-fated prom. In what could be percieved as a tragicomedy of errors, Sue’s efforts trigger an unwanted chain of events, a grim punchline involving pig’s blood and disaster.
There’s also the grade-A bitch Chris Hargensen who orchestrates most of the abuse that Carrie suffers in school. She’s a real insight into how casually cruel children can be, and how a dog-eat-dog mentality causes nothing but pain. The sad thing is that there’s a Chris in every school, but you can’t quite go all Carrie on them, can you? So how do you properly deal with that. The answer is that there is no definitive answer, and not knowing something is what terrifies people the most.
Standing alongside Chris among the novel’s most despicable characters is the religious-fanatic mother Margaret White, who is my candidate for the Worst Mother in Literature award. Being a mother is second to her closeness to God, and she begins to view her own daughter as a satanic figure once she displays her powers. It’s not like she shows any compassion to begin with. In fact, she shows the opposite, and that fuels Carrie’s sadness and confusion towards the outside world, countering the compassion that Miss Desjardin shows the lonely Carrie.
There are also the many extracts from research into telekinesis and into Carrie’s life conducted by scholars, but they do no justice to the humanity behind her story. But that’s exactly the point for which King utilises them; they dissect her life and her powers as if she were a laboratory specimen, not the troubled human being she was. They also help to ground the Black Prom as one of the biggest disasters in American history, with a huge death toll and the entire town of Chamberlain, Maine burned to ashes in Carrie’s wake.
But I suppose the greatest disaster within Carrie is the triumph of evil over good, and how that can define a child as he or she grows up. In the eyes of the world, Carrie White is known as the monster who destroyed Chamberlain, but she’s anything but once the reader gets to know her. It’s amazing how people can judge a book by its cover (yes, the pun was intended, and no, I’m not ashamed of it.)
This is also why anyone who has heard of Carrie, who knows the events but haven’t read the book, should pick it up and give it a read. King described Carrie as a story with the power to ‘hurt and horrify,’ and it does exactly those things in equal, macabre measure.