Carrie is an epistolary horror novel by American author Stephen King. It was his first published novel, released on April 5, 1974, with an approximate first print-run of 30,000 copies. Set primarily in the then-future year of 1979, it revolves around the eponymous Carrie White, an unpopular friendless misfit and bullied high-school girl who uses her newly discovered telekinetic powers to exact revenge on those who torment her. During the process, she causes one of the worst local disasters the town has ever had. King has commented that he finds the work to be "raw" and "with a surprising power to hurt and horrify." It is one of the most frequently banned books in United States schools. Much of the book uses newspaper clippings, magazine articles, letters, and excerpts from books to tell how Carrie destroyed the fictional town of Chamberlain, Maine while exacting revenge on her sadistic classmates and her own mother Margaret.
First edition cover
|April 5, 1974|
|Media type||Print (Hardcover)|
Several adaptations of Carrie have been released, including a 1976 feature film, a 1988 Broadway musical as well as a 2012 off-Broadway revival, a 1999 feature film sequel, a 2002 television film, and a 2013 feature film.
The book is dedicated to King's wife Tabitha: "This is for Tabby, who got me into it – and then bailed me out of it."
Carietta "Carrie" White is a 16-year-old girl from Chamberlain, Maine. Her widowed mother, Margaret, a fanatical fundamentalist Christian, has a vindictive and unstable personality, and over the years has ruled Carrie harshly with repeated threats of damnation, as well as physical abuse and forced confinement in a closet. Carrie does not fare much better at her school where her frumpy looks and unusual religious beliefs make her a target for ridicule.
At the beginning of the novel, Carrie has her first period while showering after a physical education class; the terrified Carrie has no understanding of menstruation as her mother never told her about it. Her classmates use the event as yet another opportunity to taunt her; led by a wealthy, popular girl named Chris Hargensen, they throw tampons and sanitary napkins at her. When their teacher, Rita Desjardin, happens upon the scene, she at first berates Carrie for her stupidity but is horrified when she realizes Carrie's complete ignorance of the concept of menstruation. She helps her clean up and tries to explain. Carrie's mother shows no sympathy for her first encounter with what she calls "the woman's curse" and responds with more physical abuse.
Desjardin, still incensed over the locker room incident and ashamed at her initial disgust with Carrie, wants all the girls who taunted and assaulted Carrie to be suspended and banned from attending the school prom. Instead, the administration punishes the girls by giving them a week's detention, under Desjardin's supervision; the penalty for skipping this detention would be suspension and exclusion from the prom, and this punishment is given to Chris when she refuses to appear for detention, believing what she did to Carrie to be justified. She tries unsuccessfully to get her father, a prominent local attorney, to intimidate the school principal, Henry Grayle, into reinstating her privileges, but Grayle holds firm, threatening to file a countersuit against Chris on behalf of Carrie White. Chris, a longtime bully and troublemaker who had received frequent detentions for bullying and other infractions, and had been suspended in middle school for putting a lit firecracker in the shoe of a classmate who had a harelip, nearly costing the girl two toes, vows revenge.
As Carrie discovers her telekinetic powers, she recalls how they had surfaced throughout her life. She practices her powers in secret, developing them. She also finds that she has some telepathic ability.
Meanwhile, Sue Snell, another popular girl who had earlier teased Carrie, begins to feel remorseful about her participation in the locker-room bullying. With the prom fast approaching, Sue convinces her boyfriend—Tommy Ross, one of the most popular boys in school—to ask Carrie to the prom. Carrie is suspicious, but accepts his offer. When Chris hears of this, she sees an opening for vengeance. She quietly promotes Tommy and Carrie as King and Queen of the Prom, then gets her boyfriend, Billy Nolan, an older teen from a financially struggling, dysfunctional family, and his friends to kill and bleed pigs belonging to a local farmer in his and his hired hand's absence. Billy breaks into the school in the wee hours of the morning, places two buckets of blood from the pigs on a girder directly over the stage, and rigs a cord and pulleys to an auditorium window so that pulling the cord will dump the blood on whoever is sitting on the thrones. As he leaves, he realizes that he is becoming disillusioned with Chris.
Carrie makes a red velvet gown for the prom, infuriating her mother, who hates the color red and won't hear of her daughter doing anything so "carnal" as attending a school dance, as she believes that sex in any form is sinful—even after marriage. She also reveals that she knows about Carrie's telekinetic power, which she considers to be witchcraft. In their family, she says, the power manifests in alternate generations. Carrie, however, is tired of hearing that everything is a sin: she wants a normal life and sees the prom as a new beginning.
The prom initially goes well for Carrie: Tommy's friends are welcoming, and Tommy finds that he is attracted to her. Chris's efforts to rig Carrie's election as prom queen become successful when Tommy, innocently, votes for her. Chris is waiting outside with Billy, who refuses to have anything more to do with the scheme. When Carrie and Tommy take the stage, Chris pulls the cord and dumps the blood onto Carrie's and Tommy's heads. Tommy is knocked unconscious by one of the buckets and dies within minutes; both he and Carrie are drenched in blood. Nearly everyone in attendance, even some of the teachers, laugh at Carrie, who is finally pushed over the edge. She leaves the building in humiliation. Remembering her telekinetic ability, she decides to use it for vengeance against her tormentors.
First, she slams the doors leading to the gym from the lobby hard enough to break the pneumatic door closers and holds the doors tightly closed against the pressure of panicky students attempting to escape. Then, she turns on the sprinkler system in the gym. When the singer of the rock band hired for the occasion takes hold of a microphone to address the crowd, he is immediately electrocuted; observing this through a window in the gym doors, Carrie goes berserk, telekinetically causing the circuit box backstage to explode, setting fire to the scenery and other flammable material nearby and then the gym. She also causes the electric cables strewn upon the stage to leap into the air; one snaps in two and a severed end of the cable falls into a puddle of water in which another girl, Rhonda Simard, is standing, electrocuting her as well. The fire in the gym, raging out of control, eventually ignites fuel tanks in the gym, causing a massive explosion that destroys the school.
Taking a circuitous route home through town, Carrie unleashes a powerful wave of telekinetic destruction on the rest of Chamberlain. After opening the fire hydrants around the school to thwart efforts to fight the fire, she breaks the locks on the fuel pumps at a nearby service station and sends gasoline pouring into the street, where it is ignited by a discarded cigarette, resulting in a fiery explosion. She does the same at another gas station; then opens a gas main, resulting in an even more massive explosion; then pulls down high-tension power lines onto a crowd of people. As she does all this, she broadcasts a telepathic message, making the townspeople aware that the carnage was caused by her, even if they do not know who she is. Carrie returns home to confront her mother, who believes Carrie has been possessed by Satan, and that the only way to save her is to kill her. Carrie's mother tells her that her conception was a result of what may have been marital rape. She stabs Carrie in the shoulder with a kitchen knife, but Carrie kills her by mentally stopping her heart.
Mortally wounded, Carrie makes her way to the roadhouse where she was conceived. She sees Chris and Billy leaving, having been informed of the destruction by one of Billy's friends, Jackie Talbot. Billy plans to flee for California if any of his friends who participated in the pig bleeding are taken in, and also plans to dump Chris, having become revulsed at Chris's cruelty and snobbery, and guilty and infuriated over his part in producing the mayhem. After Billy attempts to run Carrie over, she telekinetically takes control of his car and sends it racing into the tavern wall, killing both Billy and Chris. Sue Snell, who has been following Carrie's telepathic "broadcast", finds Carrie collapsed in the parking lot, bleeding out from the knife wound her mother inflicted upon her. The two have a brief telepathic conversation. Carrie had believed that Sue and Tommy had set her up for the prank, but realizes that Sue is innocent and has never felt real animosity towards her. Carrie forgives her, then dies crying out for her mother.
One of the few survivors of the fire at the school is Desjardin. She believes that she might have prevented the catastrophe if she had reached out more to Carrie. Both she and Grayle, the principal, resign from their jobs. The surviving seniors attend a grim graduation ceremony.
The action is interspersed with excerpts from a book by an investigative reporter about the tragedy and another by Sue Snell attempting to explain her part in it; a magazine article written by one of the girls who survived the prom, Norma Watson, describing the incident; interviews with Margaret White's family, a woman who witnessed an astonishing display of telekinetic ability from a three-year-old Carrie involving heavy furniture thrown around the interior of the White home and granite boulders from nowhere raining down upon the property, and various people dealing with the aftermath of the tragedy; transcripts of Congressional hearings, which include testimony from the local sheriff, a local drunk who witnessed the first gas station explosion from in front of the town jail, Rhonda Simard's distraught mother Cora Simard (who was nearly electrocuted herself by the power lines Carrie pulled down and watched a neighbor woman get electrocuted), and defensive, sometimes angry testimony from Sue Snell, who perceives that she is being set up as a scapegoat for the tragedy, as well as a final "White Committee" report. At the end, the report concludes that at least there are no others like Carrie White, so that events like this will not happen again. However, the final document in the book is a cheery letter from an Appalachian woman to her sister, talking about her baby daughter's telekinetic powers and reminiscing about their grandmother, who had similar abilities. The town of Chamberlain, now decimated and abandoned by many of its citizens, becomes almost a ghost town and a popular tourist attraction.
Carrie was actually King's fourth novel, but it was the first one to be published. It was written while he was living in a trailer, on a portable typewriter (on which he also wrote Misery) that belonged to his wife Tabitha. It began as a short story intended for Cavalier magazine, but King tossed the first three pages of his work in the garbage can. Of King's published short stories at the time, he recalled,
Some woman said, 'You write all those macho things, but you can't write about women.' I said, 'I'm not scared of women. I could write about them if I wanted to.' So I got an idea for a story about this incident in a girls' shower room, and the girl would be telekinetic. The other girls would pelt her with sanitary napkins when she got her period. The period would release the right hormones and she would rain down destruction on them… I did the shower scene, but I hated it and threw it away.
His wife fished the pages out of the garbage can and encouraged him to finish the story, saying that she would help him with the female perspective; he followed her advice and expanded it into a novel. King said, "I persisted because I was dry and had no better ideas… my considered opinion was that I had written the world's all-time loser."
Stephen King notes in his book Danse Macabre that Carrie is an allegory for feminism:
Carrie is largely about how women find their own channels of power, and what men fear about women and women's sexuality...which is only to say that, writing the book in 1973... I was fully aware of what Women's Liberation implied... The book is...an uneasy masculine shrinking from a future of female equality. For me, Carrie White is a sadly misused teenager, an example of the sort of person whose spirit is so often broken for good in that pit of man- and woman-eaters that is your normal suburban high school. But she's also Woman, feeling her powers for the first time and, like Samson, pulling down the temple on everyone in sight... Carrie uses her "wild talent" to pull down the whole rotten society.
The character of Carrie White is based on a composite of two girls Stephen King observed while attending grade school and high school. Of one of them, he recalled:
She was a very peculiar girl who came from a very peculiar family. Her mother wasn't a religious nut like the mother in Carrie; she was a game nut, a sweepstakes nut who subscribed to magazines for people who entered contests … the girl had one change of clothes for the entire school year, and all the other kids made fun of her. I have a very clear memory of the day she came to school with a new outfit she'd bought herself. She was a plain-looking country girl, but she'd changed the black skirt and white blouse – which was all anybody had ever seen her in – for a bright-colored checkered blouse with puffed sleeves and a skirt that was fashionable at the time. And everybody made worse fun of her because nobody wanted to see her change the mold.
King says he wondered what it would have been like to have been raised by such a mother, and based the story itself on a reversal of the Cinderella fairy tale. According to one biography of King, later the girl "married a man who was as odd as her, had kids, and eventually killed herself."
Carrie's telekinesis resulted from King's earlier reading about this topic. King recalls, "Carrie was written after Rosemary's Baby, but before The Exorcist, which really opened up the field. I didn't expect much of Carrie. I thought, 'Who'd want to read a book about a poor little girl with menstrual problems?' I couldn't believe I was writing it."
Recalling, King was not confident in the beginning of the novel, since he could not relate to Carrie's problems and doubted the significance of the novel. With the support of his wife Tabitha, then employed in a donut shop, he decided to proceed with his writings. King structured his novel in that in a way of multiple self-conscious narrators, having three narrators reinforces the novel's warning against the limitations of reason and the potential for abuse in the product of reason.
At the time of publication, King was working as a high school English teacher at Hampden Academy and barely making ends meet, although it has been presumed that King drew inspiration from his time as a teacher. To cut down on expenses, King had the phone company remove the telephone from his house. As a result, when King received word that the book was chosen for publication, his phone was out of service. Doubleday editor William Thompson – who would eventually become King's close friend – sent a telegram to King's house in late March or early April 1973 which read: "Carrie Officially A Doubleday Book. $2,500 Advance Against Royalties. Congrats, Kid - The Future Lies Ahead, Bill." According to King, he bought a new Ford Pinto with the money from the advance. Then, on Mother's Day, May 13, 1973, just a month or so later, New American Library bought the paperback rights for $400,000, which, according to King's contract with Doubleday, was split between them. King eventually resigned from the teaching job after receiving the publishing payment. The hardback sold a mere 13,000 copies; the paperback, released a year later, sold over 1 million copies in its first year.
The first adaption of Carrie was a feature film of the same name, released in 1976. Screenwritten by Lawrence D. Cohen and directed by Brian De Palma, the film starred Sissy Spacek as Carrie, along with Piper Laurie as Margaret, Amy Irving as Sue, Nancy Allen as Chris, John Travolta as Billy, Betty Buckley as Miss Collins (changed from Miss Desjardin), and William Katt as Tommy. It is regarded as a watershed film of the horror genre and one of the best film adaptations of a Stephen King work. Spacek and Laurie received Academy Award nominations for their performances.
A 1999 sequel to the first film titled The Rage: Carrie 2, starring Emily Bergl, was based on the premise that Carrie's father had numerous affairs and had another daughter with telekinetic powers. Amy Irving reprises her role as Sue Snell, the only survivor of the prom and now a school counselor.
In 2002, a made-for-television film of the same name was released, starring Angela Bettis as Carrie, Kandyse McClure as Sue, Emilie de Ravin as Chris, and Patricia Clarkson as Margaret. However, in this version, Carrie survives the end of the story.
In 2013, Metro-Goldwyn-Mayer and Screen Gems gained rights to make a new film version written by Roberto Aguirre-Sacasa and directed by Kimberly Peirce, known for her work on Boys Don't Cry. The film is said to be "less a remake of the De Palma film and more a re-adaptation of the original text". Chloë Grace Moretz plays the title role, with Julianne Moore as Margaret White, Judy Greer as Miss Desjardin and Gabriella Wilde as Sue Snell. Portia Doubleday plays the role of Chris Hargensen, Alex Russell plays the role of Billy Nolan, and Ansel Elgort, a newcomer at the time, plays the role of Tommy Ross. Released on October 18, 2013, the movie received mixed reviews. It also left many fans disappointed because much of the material from the book was cut.
A Broadway musical adaptation, Carrie, was staged in 1988; it had transferred to Broadway from the Royal Shakespeare Company in Stratford-upon-Avon, England. The book and orchestrations were revised and updated for a 2012 Off-Broadway production. The 2012 Off-Broadway production was a moderate success receiving mainly positive reviews unlike its predecessor.
Playwright Erik Jackson acquired King's consent to stage a non-musical spoof, which premiered off-Broadway in 2006 with female impersonator Keith Levy (also known as Sherry Vine) in the lead role.
In popular cultureEdit
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