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The Body by Stephen King is a novella published in 1982 alongside three other novellas under the title Different Seasons. Narrated through the words of Gordie Lachance. The four main characters Chris, Gordie, Vern, and Teddy embark on a journey to discover the body of Roy Bower, a young boy near their age who had been reported missing a few weeks before. The story implies that Roy being lost in the woods wondered along the train tracks in hopes of reaching the neighboring community. But unfortunately, in a moment of distraction, Roy was killed by an oncoming train. In “The Body” Stephen Kings’ strength as a writer is revealed once more. King’s ability to write detailed scenes and characters, his realistic recreation of childhood moments and the dialogue that occurs between young men offer a wonderful coming of age story that explores the blurry moments where boys become men.
Traditionally coming of age stories do not tend to focus on a subject as dark as the one in this novella. More conventional storylines lean around the subjects of first loves, the protagonist place in society or their stance when confronted by the statue’s quo. But in this novella what ushers the boys into maturity is their first encounter with death. In the stories beginning all four boys seem to have regular childhoods, they spend their summers together and meet at a place that to many is the icon of childhood, a tree house. But it can be argued that King’s intention in writing this novella was not solely to explore a coming of age story. But to reveal the darker aspects of the adult world and to offer a criticism of the idealization of small-town life.
Gordie Lachance, the narrator, comes from a family that seems to be more economically stable than that of his friends but that is still imperfect. A couple of months before the story begins, his older Brother Dennis is killed in a Jeep accident. His parents are never able to get over the loss of this child and their disregard for Gordie deepens. Gordie finds a metaphor to fit his condition in a book titled “the invisible man”. Despite all this, Gordie does not appear to resent his parents. Though the novella alludes to Gordie feeling somehow responsible for his brothers’ death. Gordie has recurring nightmares that involve his late brother Dennis.
Chris Chambers is Geordie’s closest friend. He comes from a highly abusive family. His mother is unaccounted for and his father is a violent alcoholic. His older siblings are no better. One of his older brothers was convicted of rape. His second brother, whom he calls Eyeball, is part of the towns gang delinquents. Although Chris attempts desperately to distance himself from this typecast, the prejudice that often comes from living in such an isolated and small community prevents him from this separation. When the milk money is stolen, everyone including his close friends assumes he is responsible.
Teddy Duchamp is the son of a mentally ill father. His father is a World War Two veteran who returned home deeply affected by the traumatic events that happened on the beaches of Normandy. Because the mental condition of Teddy’s father had gone untreated, his father became violent. When Teddy was 8 years old, as punishment for something he did his father held Teddy’s ears against a hot stovetop. This injury left Teddy with a hearing impediment and a disfigured ear. But much like Chris, Teddy in his innocence does not feel resentment towards his father.
The last member of the group of boys is Vern. Not much is known about his family, except that he is deeply afraid of his older brother. In this novella, Kings offers a dark view of the traditional American dream. Instead of the close-knit communities, manicured gardens, and homes of two caring parents. The world the boys begin to experience on their journey to Roy Bower’s body is full of hypocritical and malicious adults. It seems that in this community there is no one to provide the emotional support and guidance the young boys need.
When the boys decide to go see Ray Bower’s body, they are unaware of the severity this encounter will have. They do not embark on a noble mission to return Ray’s body for the sake of his parents. They want to retrieve Ray’s in hopes of receiving from other local the attention and recognition they do not receive from other adult figures in their lives.
But their first encounter with an adult on this journey is far from pleasant. Three-quarters of the way through their journey they arrive at the community landfill. Tired from their hike and hungry they decide to have a rest and buy provisions for the rest of the travel. By coin-flipping it is decided that Gordie should be the one that goes and buys supplied with the money they gathered. When he arrives at the convenience store, the clerk recognizes him at Denny’s younger brother. The clerk begins to lament the passing of Geordie’s brother. The clerk then begins to talk about faith and religion while at the same time trying to steal from Gordie. The clerk puts his thumb on the scale that is measuring the meat Gordie is buying. Gordie notices and after a brief argument, he decides it’s best to just pay and leave. This is the first incident that begins to unveil the reality of the adult world to Gordie. King reveals a world full of shallow and hypocritical people. Immediately after the events of the store. Gordie decides that the fastest way to his friends is to cross the landfill. Halfway across he realizes that Milo, the keeper of the landfill, and his dog chopper “the most feared dog in Castle Rock” (Page 333) have arrived for the opening. When Milo notices Gordie is trespassing, he and his dog begin to chase him. Despite the fear that Gordie feels for milo and his mythical dog, he manages to climb over the fence that separates the dump from the rest of the woods. This time it is not only Gordie who will get to experience the true face of the adults whose approval they seek. An argument ensues through the fence that separates the boys from Milo and Chopper. As a response, Milo behaves in a way that is the opposite of what is expected from an adult. Milo begins to target each boy with individual insults. The boy most affected by this is Teddy. Milo sees that Teddy does not understand his father’s condition and uses this as a weapon. Milo is the adult that voices Teddy’s insecurities, tears down the image Teddy had built of his father and revels in the anguish he causes.
The next event that exposes the truth about adult life in Castle Rock is Chris’ confession to Gordie about the stolen milk money. Chris admits that he did indeed steal the milk money. But he was immediately filled with regret and tried to return it to a trusted teacher. This teacher breaks Chris’ trust and does not return the money; because of the prejudices that surround Chris’ family, he is unable to defend himself. This event deepens Chris’ awareness of what kind of people surround him and increases his longing for separation from his family’s reputation. Chris seems to be the only one of the boys who is truly aware. He does not idolize the recognition that might come from flawed adults. The abuse and betrayal Chris has been subjected to from figures of authority have changed the way he sees and interacts with adult figures; in this interaction, this revelation changes Gordie as well.
The climax of the story and Kings ultimate moment of criticism happens when the boys encounter Roy Bowers body. The boys come face to face with their own mortality. The realize that childhood does not exempt them from death. For Chris and Gordie, this event aggravates the urgency they feel to become individuals. For Chris becoming an individual means estrangement from his family and the fatalism that a future with them represents. For Gordie, this is manifested in the recognition and mourning of various two things. Gordie finally recognizes his brother’s death as something severe and permanent. This recognition aggravates him, and his grief becomes so deep he wishes to have died in his brother’s place. The second thing Gordie realizes is how his brother’s death deepened the breach that exists between him and his parents, and for a brief moment in his despair, he begins to believe that he is truly hated by his parents. But in the end grief passes and for all of the boys, but especially for Chris and Gordie, maturity is reached through their acceptance of what it means to die and the recognition of how death can affect relationships.
In the end, through The Body King deconstructs what life in a small community can really mean. He does away the mythical community of perfect neighbors, where schoolteachers are moral compasses, parents excel in their roles and children are free to experience happy childhoods. He ends The Body by exposing an authentic depiction of what life can be like in small communities. A place where parents can be indifferent and abusive, where teachers can be corrupt, neighbors can be hypocritical and where children can die. But it also a place where friends can bloom and where the bonds created in childhood can become stronger.
- King, Stephen. 1982. Different Seasons. New York: Signet.
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