Stephen King and Feminism

Over the course of a 40-odd year career, Stephen King has published over 50 titles; novels, short stories, graphic novels, e-books and newspaper serialisations. Some of his most popular book-to-film adaptations include The Shawshank Redemption (‘Rita Hayworth and the Shawshank Redemption’), The Green Mile, Stand by Me (‘The Body’), The Shining, Carrie and Salem’s Lot. There are undoubtedly some duffers too; I found Insomnia impenetrable to read, Cujo a little dull and Dreamcatcher a bit rubbish. But that is the beauty of being a Constant Reader (a SK in-joke there, readers…), you love the great ones and dismiss the poor ones as momentary lapses in an otherwise enviable literary career. What’s a bad book between friends?

Is Stephen King a feminist author? Does it matter? Well, my answer would be yes, it does matter, and at the same time, it is an irrelevant question at best. Being a feminist and a lover of popular fiction is not without its conundrums. I have had friends recoil in horror as I reveal my love of all things SK. But he’s not feminist, they say…his books portray women negatively, they protest…he’s a bit naff, they all concur. Must we read academia all the time? Does this guilty pleasure of mine negate all the positive feminist mobilisation I am involved in? Of course not.

Let me tell you something, as a Constant Reader, I believe that as an author, Stephen King is demonstrating to us that both men, and women, are capable of anything. Both sexes are scrutinised as having all too human flaws. Is this not an accurate analysis of the world at large? Should female characters in literature be placed on pedestals? Men commit unspeakable crimes, women commit unspeakable crimes. But men and women are also portrayed as brave, determined, fearless, strong and committed to their ideals as human beings. Reading between the lines of these seemingly scary works reveals to the reader the true strength of both male and female characters in SK’s literary world, so effortlessly created and so deliciously layered. Life, fictitious or not, is not without its complexities.

Dolores Claiborne (of the book of the same name) murders her husband after it emerges that he molested their daughter. Darcy Anderson (of the novella ‘A Good Marriage’) is left in a predicament when it is uncovered that her husband, whom she adores, is discovered to be a murderer of women and children. Tess (of the novella ‘Big Driver’) is raped and left for dead at the side of the road and seeks her revenge against the perpetrator. Carrie White, in every bullied girl’s fantasy, wreaks havoc at the High School prom when she is humiliated for the last time. Frannie Goldsmith (of ‘The Stand’) is one of the founders of a new ‘society’ after a super flu, created and accidently released by the military, wipes out nearly all of America’s population. Lisey (of ‘Lisey’s Story’) rises to the challenge when faced with a predicament after her husband’s death.

In his vast repertoire, Stephen King has created some fantastic female characters. Some are quintessentially ‘good’ people, and some have less than desirable personal characteristics. Don’t we all know people like that? Naturally there are some bad guys and gals; Annie Wilkes of Misery, Jack Torrance of The Shining to name but two. However, both of these characters have their own all-too-human follies; mental illness and alcoholism.

In essence, you could say that Stephen King is inclined toward feminism in his works, whether this is a conscious effort or not. This is, of course, a simplistic piece of personal opinion, but I hope I have demonstrated to you, dear reader, that appearances can often be deceiving. Why deprive yourself of a good story for fear of it not being deemed feminist enough?

If we want to go down that route, lets propose a metaphorical question; if feminism should influence works of popular literature then why isn’t Hermione Granger ‘the girl who lived’? A strong female character she may be, but no matter how you dress it up, she is still just one of Harry Potter’s sidekicks.  Would the Hermione Granger books be as popular as the Harry Potter series? I don’t have the answer to that unfortunately, but do you see my point? (Before anyone starts hating on me, I love the HP books, though I am not particularly fussed on the films…)

The whole ‘should we feel bad about reading Stephen King’ debate rages on. To cast our critical eye over popular literature is something we should do more often, but how about we just take it easy and enjoy reading what we love?

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2 thoughts on “Stephen King and Feminism

  1. Silke

    At the risk of sounding unbearably stuffy and patronising, I’m simply glad to see you embrace feminism so actively and passionately, whereas for many other young women it seems to have become a dirty word. I couldn’t care less what you read in your spare time (as long as it’s not Fifty Shades of Vile, of course 🙂 ). In another sense, we’re all of us full of contradictions, that’s what makes people so endlessly interesting – so if your interests go beyond the feminist canon of Worthy Women Writers, good for you!!

    Reply

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