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First edition cover
|April 5, 1974|
|Media type||Print (Hardcover)|
First edition cover
|April 5, 1974|
|Media type||Print (Hardcover)|
Carrie is an American epistolary novel and author Stephen King's first published novel, released on April 5, 1974, with an approximate first print-run of 30,000 copies. Set in the then-future year of 1979, it revolves around the eponymous Carrietta N. "Carrie" White, a shy high school girl who uses her newly discovered telekinetic powers to exact revenge on those who torment her — in the process, causing one of the worst local disasters in American history. 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 is written in an epistolary structure, using 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 bullying classmates.
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."
King's 1979 novel The Dead Zone mentions the book in connection with a fire at another high school prom.
Part I – Blood Sport
Ever since grade school, Carrietta "Carrie" N. White has been the subject of abuse from her unstable fundamentalist Christian mother, Margaret White, who broke away from mainstream Christianity and founded her own religion (of which she and Carrie are apparently the only adherents). Carrie is frequently locked in a closet for hours on end and ordered to pray for such "transgressions" as showing interest in celebrities, going to summer camp (where she is bullied so severely she is forced to leave early), and listening to rock music. She is forced to wear unbecoming and outdated clothes and forbidden to wear red; she has a severe acne problem, which her mother tells her is a punishment from God. Carrie doesn't fare much better at school; she has been a social outcast since first grade. At the beginning of the novel, Carrie, a senior at Thomas Ewen Consolidated High School in fictional Chamberlain, Maine, has her first period while showering after gym class. Carrie is terrified, having no concept of menstruation, and believes she is bleeding to death. Instead of sympathizing with the frightened Carrie, her classmates taunt her and throw tampons and sanitary napkins at her. As Carrie is aided by her gym teacher Rita Desjardin, who realizes Carrie has no knowledge of menstruation, a light bulb in the shower explodes and a rack of baseball bats falls over, spilling the bats onto the floor. When Margaret finds out about the incident, she beats Carrie, claiming that this is God's way of punishing her, and locks her in the closet for hours to "pray for forgiveness."
The next day, Miss Desjardin orders the girls who bullied Carrie to serve a week's detention in the gym. One of the bullies, Chris Hargensen, refuses to attend and is suspended for three days. She is also banned from Ewen High's prom. However, another girl, Sue Snell, feels remorse for her prior actions and offers to become Carrie's friend. Meanwhile, Carrie gradually discovers that she has telekinetic powers, and learns how to keep them under control. With prom fast approaching, Sue convinces her handsome boyfriend, Tommy Ross, to ask Carrie to prom, as a way for her to finally fit in. Margaret forbids her from attending, but Carrie uses her powers to help stand up for herself.
Smarting from being banned from the prom, Chris and her boyfriend, Billy Nolan, hatch a plan to humiliate Carrie in front of the entire school. Chris has Billy kill two pigs at a nearby farm and drain their blood into two buckets. Billy then rigs the buckets over the stage on a rafter hidden out of sight. On prom night, Carrie is tormented by Margaret begging for her not to leave the house. Margaret begins hurting herself, trying to convince Carrie to stay home and pray with her, but Carrie leaves anyway and arrives with Tommy. She is nervous at first, but everyone begins treating her equally. Soon, Carrie begins enjoying herself and Tommy becomes romantically attracted to her. Meanwhile, Sue is at home, continually worrying about what's happening at the prom, and fretting about the fact that her own period is late.
Part II – Prom Night
May 27, 1979: Chris and Billy arrive at the school during the prom, and Billy gives Chris instructions, telling her that they need to flee immediately once she pulls the string to dump the blood, and warning her that they are committing assault that will put them in prison if they are caught and that he will leave without her if she isn't at the car when he gets there. Chris anticipates that the vote will not even be close, but things will turn out differently. Carrie and Tommy are narrowly elected prom king and queen in a runoff--tragically, Tommy's vote is the deciding one--while Chris and Billy lurk outside, waiting to hear the school song played, which will be Chris's cue. Once on stage, the school song begins, and Chris pulls the string to release the buckets. Carrie and Tommy are drenched in pig blood; one of the buckets falls on Tommy's head, knocking him out. The result is general laughter; as she runs out of the gym, she is tripped by someone, and Desjardin attempts to comfort her, but Carrie, paranoid due to her long years of victimhood, uses her telekinetic ability to hurl Desjardin away. Outside, weeping on the front lawn, she realizes that she has the ability to make her tormentors pay for what they have done, and decides then and there to exact her revenge. She telekinetically seals the gymnasium doors and activates the sprinkler system, immediately electrocuting two students; she then burns down the gym by setting an electrical fire backstage, leaving everyone inside (including the unconscious Tommy) to die, and opens all the fire hydrants near the school to prevent the fire from being put out. Only a handful of people escape, including Ms. Desjardin, Tina Blake, and Norma Watson, who chronicles her experience at the prom in a news article. Carrie walks home on a circuitous path through the town, leaving a trail of destruction in her wake: opening gasoline pumps at service stations in order to let gasoline run into the street to ignite and explode, opening gas mains to cause gas explosions, pulling down power lines on people on the street. Sue, hearing the town whistle go off from her home, rushes to Ewen High and watches it explode, destroying a portion of the town.
Carrie returns home and confronts a crazed Margaret, who claims that she had conceived Carrie due to marital rape. When Margaret stabs Carrie, she kills her mother by telekinetically stopping her heart. Mortally wounded, Carrie makes her way to the local roadhouse where her mother was raped and she was conceived. Chris and Billy, who happen to be making love inside, receive word from Billy's friend Jackie Talbot of what has happened to Chamberlain. Billy, who has become somewhat disenchanted with Chris on account of the prank and is now revolted by her, makes plans to flee to California, telling Chris he might take her with him but secretly intending to abandon her instead. They exit the roadhouse just as Carrie arrives, and Billy attempts to run her down with his car. However, Carrie telekinetically sends the car crashing into the roadhouse, killing Chris and Billy. Carrie then collapses in the parking lot from blood loss.
Sue arrives on the scene and finds Carrie in the parking lot. Carrie, weak and dying from blood loss, speaks telepathically with Sue, blaming her for the prank. After scanning Sue's mind, she realizes that Sue had nothing to do with it and set her up with Tommy to make amends for the locker room incident. Carrie cries out for her mother and dies, which Sue experiences personally due to their brief psychic connection. As Sue walks away, she feels blood running down her thighs and screams in anguish.
Part III – Wreckage
Four months later, Chamberlain has become a virtual ghost town. By then, 440 people (including 67 of Ewen High's seniors) are confirmed dead, with 18 more still missing. The Black Prom incident is one of the worst disasters in American history and is considered a national tragedy worse than the assassination of John F. Kennedy. After interviewing the survivors of the prom, scientists begin to take telekinesis seriously, and schools across the country start to crack down more on bullying. An autopsy reveals unusual formations in the cerebrum and cerebellum of Carrie's brain.
Miss Desjardin and Principal Henry Grayle, who had managed to escape from the prom, are consumed with regret, sadness and guilt over not reaching out to Carrie and resign their positions (Desjardin states she'd rather commit suicide than teach again). In 1986, Sue writes a memoir of her traumatic experience, My Name Is Susan Snell, which warns the reader not to forget about the events that took place in Chamberlain or else something like it may happen again.
The book closes with a letter written by a woman in Tennessee whose daughter is developing incredibly strong advanced telekinetic abilities as well. However, unlike Margaret White, she expresses fascination with her daughter's natural abilities, and predicts that her daughter will become a "real world-beater someday". (This may be interpreted as Carrie having risen above her oppression and having been reincarnated into a more loving home.)
Carrie was actually King's fourth novel but the first 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. 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 and encouraged him to finish the story; 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." Carrie is based on a composite of two girls Stephen King observed while attending grade school and high school.
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. He also told biographer George Beahm that the girl later "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. At the time of publication, King was working as a high school English teacher at Hampden Academy and barely making ends meet. 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 which read: "Carrie Officially A Doubleday Book. $2,500 Advance Against Royalties. Congrats, Kid - The Future Lies Ahead, Bill." It has been presumed that King drew inspiration from his time as a teacher. New American Library bought the paperback rights for $400,000, which, according to King's contract with Doubleday, was split between them. King eventually quit 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. In King's book, On Writing, he mentions that he wrote all of Carrie in only about two weeks.
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."
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