Carrie and Columbine: American Gothic

Carrie and Columbine: American Gothic

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     Carrie, by Stephen King, and the Columbine High School Incident; looked at separately, they are to things that have nothing to do with each other. Carrie was Stephen King’s first major novel and a New York Times bestseller. Columbine was and incident in Colorado that happened in 1999, where two high school seniors orchestrated a bloody massacre at their high school. The two events occurred over twenty-five years apart, but when juxtaposed we can see many similarities between the book ant the incident, the fact that they are gothic in nature in particular.
     Gothic Literature is a literary style made popular during the end of the 18th century and the beginning of the 19th . This style usually portrayed fantastic tales dealing with horror, despair, the grotesque and other "dark" subjects. Gothic literature was named for the apparent influence of the dark gothic architecture of the period on the genre. Also, many of these Gothic tales took places in such "gothic" surroundings, sometimes a dark and stormy castle as shown in Mary Shelly's Frankenstein, or Bram Stoker's infamous Dracula. These stories were romances, due to their love of the imaginary over the logical. Gothic literature gave birth to many other forms, such as suspense, ghost stories, horror, mystery, and also detective stories. Gothic literature wasn't so different from other genres in form as it was in content and its focus on the "weird" aspects of life. This movement began to slowly open may people's eyes to the possible uses of the supernatural in literature.
      This brings us to the late 19th and early 20th centuries. Here we see the emergence of writers such as Edgar Allen Poe and Nathaniel Hawthorne. These writers used the gothic format in their writing but tweaked the traditional form to start a new style with an American twist, hence, “American Gothic”. These stories of darkness occur in a more everyday setting, such as the quaint house where the man goes mad from the "beating" of his guilt in Edgar Allan Poe's “The Tell-Tale Heart” and the quaint little village in Shirley Jackson‘s “The Lottery”. The stories often involved farms and farmers and besides having a surprise twist at the end, usually some form of mass murder or death, they also used dark humor had and underlying theme, such as religion and social order.
     As we move even further down the timeline, we come across “new-age” gothic writers.

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Some are directors, such as M. Night Shamalan, who produced the gothic classics “The Sixth Sense and Signs. Others are novelists, like the award winning Stephen King, whose many book were made into bone chilling movies like The Shining. King’s first novel, Carrie is an excellent example of the “new-age” gothic literature.
     In his book, Carrie is the main character and the subject of tons of ridicule from her peers and religious fanatic of a mother. In the opening scene, Carrie has her first period, during a shower in the locker room, in front of all the girls in her class. The girls make fun of Carrie relentlessly, throwing tampons and chanting in unison to “plug it up”. When she tells her mother of the occurrence, instead of consoling her Margaret White (Carrie’s mother) throws Carrie head-first into a closet and orders her to pray for the duration of time. For a majority of the closing scenes, Carrie reeks havoc on her peers and town after pigs blood was dumped on her while she was being crowned prom queen. She goes on a rampage were she wipes out half of her town, including Ewan High School and most of the teenagers who attended the prom.
     Carrie is gothic entertainment in its purest form. But, what if it wasn’t entertainment anymore? What if Carrie was a true story. What if it crossed that fine line that separates fantasy from reality? Then, there is no more entertainment. What was once fantasy now becomes a tragic reality. That is what exactly what happened on the afternoon of April 20, 1999, at Columbine High School in Colorado.
     At approximately 11:00am, two Columbine seniors, Dylan Klebold and Eric Harris, stormed into the library of their high school to commence what is called by many as the “the worst school shooting in American history” (Cullen, “Depressive”2). Almost twenty people were killed that day most of whom were students. On the surface you can easily tell how “Carrie” and the Columbine incident are similar, students hell bent on revenge get back at their tormentors by killing them, but there are many underlying circumstances that bring the two incidents closer together.
     One such circumstance was that Carrie, Klebold, and Harris were all outsiders to their respective peers. As Burton Halten suggests, “the dynamics of Chamberlain hinge on the relationship between ‘outsiders’ and ‘insiders’(Halten).” Carrie was an outsider always looking in. “[Carrie] had tried to fit. She had defied Momma in a hundred little ways had tried to erase the red plague circle that had been drawn around her from the day she had left…the small house on Carlin Street and had walked up to the Barker Street Grammar School with her Bible under her arm”(King 23). That was the day Carrie had gotten down on her knees and began to pray prior to eating lunch. The ridicule began that day and continued through her years at school. Even outside of school Carrie was made fun of. Once, Carrie had earned enough money to attend a Christian Youth Camp with her peers and was warned by Momma not to swim or have any fun on her trip for it was sin. Though Carrie did partake in all of the activities “a thousand practical jokes had been played on ol’prayin’ Carrie and she had come home on the bus a week early, her eyes red and socketed from weeping”(King 24). “She was the ultimate sacrificial goat”(Halten). She was never really given a chance to fit in, resulting in fueling the fire for revenge.
     In relation to Carrie, Klebold and Harris were quite similar yet different at the same time. Klebold and Harris were both outsiders, but they never longed to be “in” as Carrie did. Instead Harris and Klebold had pure hatred and contempt for everything and everyone around them. “Their hatred was boundless, often ludicrous.” (Cullen, “Inside”2). They were extreme outsiders and weren’t even associated with the clique of outsiders known as The Trench Coat Mafia. Their hatred of the world was the cause of their excommunication. However, what made them similar to Carrie was that in the end they were all equal-opportunity haters, even Carrie. They hated anything and anyone they came across and it shows in the final results of the book and the Columbine incident.
     Psychologically, Carrie and the two Columbine students were extremely similar. Supervisory Special Agent Dwayne Fuselier, the FBI’s leading Columbine investigator, says of Eric Harris, “[He] was not merely a troubled kid, he was a psychopath”(Cullen, Depressive3). Harris wanted to hurt people and was well aware of his actions while he was shooting the student body. He had a messianic-like superiority complex and “set out to punish the entire human race for its appalling inferiority” (Cullen, “Depressive3), starting with Columbine High. Also validating Fusilier’s theory was Harris’s desire to lie constantly. Through a journal that Harris kept, authorities were able to come to the conclusion that Harris lied for pleasure which “represents a key characteristic of the psychopathic profile.”(Cullen, “Depressive3). Harris also possessed another trait that points to psychopathic tendencies, absence of remorse. This explains Harris’s ability to kill people, and not just ordinary people, people he went to school with, people he saw everyday without showing any remorse. He feels no guilt for what he is doing, thus, enabling Harris to taunt his victims while they lay in a pool of their own blood. “The truly hardcore psychopath doesn’t quite comprehend emotions like love or hate or fear because he has never experienced them directly”(Cullen, “Depressive4).
     Carrie is the same way, however she is static in this aspect. She starts out as a girl who has the same wants and needs any teenage girl would have. Towards the end of the novel, after a very traumatic event Carrie flips out and obliterates the whole town of Chamberlain, yet she never loses touch with reality. She knew exactly what she was doing when she turned on the water sprinklers and yanked loose the power cords. She knew what was going on when she saw Josie Vreck and Ronda Simard burst into flames and slump forward and she did not care how any of the trapped individuals felt. She used them. She used them to satisfy her own need and desire to exact revenge. Carrie destroyed the lives of the townsfolk and felt absolutely no remorse or empathy for anyone.
     The structure of both the book and the incident were also eerily similar. They follow the checklist of American Gothic literature, step by step. In Carrie, Chamberlain was a small town in rural Maine. It only had seventy-five graduating students and everyone in the town knew each other. The school, which is thought of as a “safe area”, was the primary setting for most of the novel and it is where Carrie began her nightmarish rampage through the town. At Columbine, it was also a quiet, suburban community, that never had any history of violence. It could have even been thought of as a great place to live. Here, the school was also the main focal point of the incident. Both occurrences involved a place where young, innocent kids, who never thought anything could happen to them while they were in school, were murdered in cold blood in a place they felt safe. The wreckage left in the aftermath of both incidents are identical. Both towns were devastated and torn apart. Nothing was ever the same at Columbine or in Chamberlain.
     In the end of both events many people died. The only difference was that one was fantasy and one was reality. Its hard to believe that someone who is a rational person, could actually take the life of another human being, but that is what happened in both Columbine and Carrie. Now, with more and more cases of child abuse, hazing and school shootings, more and more innocent people are put at risk. Something must be done in order to curb these types of incidents.


Works Cited

Cullen, Dave. “The Depressive and the Psychopath.” Slate.msn.com 20 April 2004. 19      Apr. 2005

Cullen, Dave. “Inside the Columbine High Investigation.” Salon.com 23 Sept. 1999 19      Apr.      2005 www.salon.com/news/feature/1999/09/23/columbine.
     
Halten, Burton. “Beyond the Kittery Bridge: Stephen King’s Maine.” Fear Itself: The      Horror      Fiction of Stephen King 6 May 2005 Ed. Tim

Underwood, Chuck Miller. New York.      Signet, 1982. 45-60.

King, Stephen. Carrie. 1974. New York. Pocket Books, 1999.
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