Fatherhood, legacy, addiction, and human nature. Although Stephen King’s ‘The Shining’ is accredited as a horror story, the writer utilizes fear to represent these universal themes. Of course, ‘The Shining’ tells the story Jack Torrance being pushed into insanity because of the mysterious Overlook Hotel and the malevolent spirits that haunt it; however, King’s novel works to reveal a much deeper level of fear than a fear of ghosts, the fear of what lies within. A psychological thriller, King’s text explores if it’s possible to escape the restraints of one’s history, he questions what it takes to consider one’s life meaningful and if it’s feasible to truly know another person entirely.
Unlike in Stanley Kubrick’s rendition of King’s work, the book delves into Jack’s childhood, addiction, and past as a father and teacher. An imperative moment in the novel is when Jack recollects a disturbing memory from his youth in which his father, a large man, beat his mother with a cane at the dinner table for no apparent reason. This violence is inherent in Jack, as a school teacher he harmed a student and he also accidentally broke his son Danny’s arm while reprimanding him before they even arrived at the Overlook. An intelligent use of symbolism used to harbor this theme of having a pugnacious past is evident with the wasp’s nest. Jack is effectively able to eliminate the wasps in the nest with a bug bomb and he gives the nest to Danny as a souvenir; however, miraculously overnight the wasps reappear and bombard the defenseless child leaving Wendy, Jack’s wife, to be suspicious of her husband who already has a history of brutality towards their son. How the wasps reappear after Jack killed them is noteworthy because it reflects Jack’s own struggles with his former behavior; he kills off a violent part of himself yet it returns like the wasps. Jack tries to alter his chemistry, become a better man by giving up drinking, yet he cannot destroy this malicious part of himself. His wrathful temperament and alcoholism begin to swarm uncontrollably once again, just like the wasps.
What brings forth this threatening side of Jack is his obsession with becoming a successful writer. A failed writer turned teacher, Jack feels his last chance for success is to write a novel about the Overlook Hotel and the demons that haunt it. Yet, as the hotel absorbs him further, writing about the structure isn’t good enough, he must become one with the Overlook. Legacy is everything to Jack, without it he is just as regrettable as his father.
A notable character who is given more attention in the novel as opposed to the film is Wendy Torrance. What makes Wendy fundamental is that she acknowledges Jack’s obscureness even before they arrive at the Overlook. In reference to Wendy’s feelings toward Jack, King writes, “She had never stopped loving him, except maybe for that dark period immediately following Danny’s ‘accident’” (68). Wendy recognizes that her husband has secrets, that a rage filled fragment of him still suffers from addiction, that portion of him that yearns more for glory than family. She had never stopped loving him, perhaps, but she is able to stop loving him. Her ability to dismiss her feelings for Jack alludes that there is a part of her that doesn’t trust her husband, there’s a part of her that may even fear him.
Though Jack’s evilness is presented mainly as inborn, King’s subtext offers one to view Jack as more of a man who was pushed to the brink. Towards the conclusion of the novel when Jack attacks Danny, Danny is able to compel Jack to yield and be fatherly like he was before; however, the Overlook is too powerful and ultimately swallows Jack whole. This occurrence allows one to conclude that perhaps it is our history that taints us rather than our own nature. Nevertheless, King novel suggests a solid implication: what we should fear most is the corners of darkness that lie within each of us.