Carrie Recaps: Part Three
And we’re back (slightly late) – welcome to another recap of Stephen King’s Carrie. Have you guys been reading along? Oh, and speaking of reading Stephen King’s work, I just picked up his new novella Gwendy’s Button Box with Richard Chizmar; anyone read it? Is it worth a look, or should I just reread The Stand for the dozenth time instead?
Alright, on with the recap. We pick up where we left off last week at the end of the newspaper article we started last week, where Carrie is finally associated with the immortal phrase “dirtypillows” which King frames as one word. In fact, the majority of this chapter is the anecdote from this neighbour of the Whites, and it’s all about introducing Margaret White, her relationship with Carrie and, to a lesser extent, Carrie’s powers.
The woman telling the story, about Carrie’s fascination with her bare breasts thanks to her own lack of knowledge about her body., discusses Carrie’s mother’s reaction, and I really love how Margaret White is introduced almost as some kind of myth; it adds to this idea of her as the impossibly awful villain that she represents to Carrie, if less to the world. With Margaret the only real ongoing presence in Carrie’s life, she dominates, looming large; to others, she’s just a crazy religious kook they all have some half-whispered story to raise eyebrows over, but to Carrie, she’s the worst of nightmares manifested as the most important person in her life.
And it’s also another scene of people failing Carrie; the woman discusses her and her mother’s horrified reaction to Margaret White clawing at herself and dragging Carrie back into house to pray in repentance, and that’s it – they don’t do anything to intervene, and apparently never do. Juxtaposed with Carrie’s run-through of the cruelty that her classmates and peers forced on her, this is a different kind of cruelty, but one that’s equally as potent and influential on Carrie’s life, even if Carrie might not be as aware of it.
The neighbour finishes up the story, discussing what we as readers understand as Carrie’s powers manifesting themselves to react to her mother’s abuse, in pots and pans flying around and ice dropping on to the house, and we’re back to Carrie’s point-of-view as she arrives home after being sent away from school after starting her period. I love the way King describes her house here – he’s always been really adept at getting across the importance of setting and the influence setting has on characters (The Overlook Hotel, of course, but also Castle Rock in Needful things, Derry, Maine, from IT, and the Marsden house in ‘Salem’s Lot), and the White residence is no different, glimmering with religious artifacts and the influence of her mother.
This chapter also goes some way to actually humanising Carrie a little bit, after the onslaught of dehumanishing references we got in the first chapter. She considers the religious paintings on the wall, and is drawn to the least violent one – specifically, the one of Jesus leading lambs down a hill. This is contrasted with what Margaret keeps around the house; the enormous, gruesome plaster cast of the Crucifixion dominating the living room, not to mention ominous pamphlets about sinners scattered around the house. Carrie looks for redemption, whereas Margret wants only revenge on a world that she thinks has done her wrong; they both translate their desires through the medium of religion, but what that religion represents to them both is vitally different.
Carrie undresses, and thinks about the women she sees in Seventeen magazine and how much she wants to be like them (she also references the kind of underwear these models wore – unless I have sincerely forgotten the function of Seventeen magazine, I’m pretty sure it didn’t have modelled underwear spreads, but alright). And then she begins to consider her body – to consider her body in comparison to the other women around her, and ways that she could more appropriately cram herself into the notion of acceptable womanhood that has been thrust upon her (which, as with many teenage girls, involves losing weight, dressing right, and clearing up her skin). She touches herself a little, deeply aware of her mother’s influence on her burgeoning sexuality (hint: Margaret White was not one of the parents who slipped their child any of that “Your Body is Changing” puberty literature and showed them how to put a condom on a wilted banana), and I do like this scene. Because it taps into something inherently teenage, a theme that King explores in lots of books after this – a desire to fit in, to be, as Carrie puts it, “alive”. He writes this scene, which is once again inexplicably internal monologue despite the epistolary nature of the book, with Carrie’s thoughts interjected with her mother’s terms and words for what she’s considering – she touches her breasts, and the word dirtypillows pops up in a separate line, like a stutter that Carrie can’t shake.
Carrie goes to change her “sanitary napkin” (I prefer the term “gore Swiffer” myself, but I’ll let it slide), and thinks about how her mother has torn her sexuality out of herself and therefore rid herself of badness. I think this is an interesting point in terms of the feminist interpretations of Carrie, because so many female characters even today have their morality tied up with the sexuality: nonsexual women are moral, whereas explicitly sexual women are immoral. But here, King strips sexuality out of the equation, not relying on promiscuity or strongly expressed sexuality as a shorthand for badness in female characters, and makes Margaret White appallingly and awfully evil well outside of her sexuality. Props.
Carrie peers at her face in the mirror, thinks about how much she hates it, and the mirror smashes, leading us to another pseudo-scientific journal entry on telekenesis. And then, we head over to Sue Snell, who has just finished hooking up with her boyfriend Tommy in the back of his car. She considers how painful her first time having sex was (“like being reamed out with a hoe handle” is how King puts it, which made me cross my legs on instinct) and whether or not she’s in love with Tommy. And then, she bursts into tears and recounts the incident with Carrie that morning to him.
And then, Sue goes on to consider, in great detail, the place her life is leading her as evidenced by her reaction to Carrie; her inability to stand up to the people bullying the hapless Carrie has led her to believe that she’s going to end up in the miserable, misogynistic outline that the world has set up for someone like her – at home while the husband works, hair in rollers, overmedication to keep her docile. And she blames Carrie – she blames Carrie for forcing her to think about it, for making her consider the “yellow eyes that glowed like flashlights in the dark” against the bright world she had built for herself. King ends this section perfectly:
“She had already bought her prom gown. It was blue. It was beautiful.”
The prom here is set up as the example of everything that Sue – the ultimate representation of the American woman, beautiful and intelligent and conforming above all – is trying to avoid, and yet is so drawn to. The iconography of the prom (and what it represents to both Sue and Carrie) is something I can’t wait to explore in later recaps.
And on that note, we’ll leave it this week. As ever, if you like my work, please consider supporting me on Patreon!