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The horror writer always brings bad news: you’re going to die, he says; he’s telling you to never mind Oral Roberts and his “something good is going to happen to you,” because something bad is going to happen to you and it may be cancer and it may be a stroke, and it may be a car accident, but it’s going to happen. (qtd. in Magistrale 24)
The bad news is that there have been “nine deadly school shootings in the U.S. during the past three years” (Lloyd 7). Society has been plagued with excessive violence. This behavior has caused many misguided children to fight in school, disrupt a teacher’s lesson, disrespect figures of authority in and out of school, commit suicide, and carry guns as a way of controlling situations. The violent events that have occurred in American schools are similar to the rage expressed in Stephen King’s novel, Rage, which was written over thirty years ago.
Rage, which was published in 1977, “highlights the isolation, fear, and pressures implicit in high school society...” (Collings 14). King did not use his real name when he published Rage. As a matter of fact, “during the summer of 1966, after graduating from high school, King started writing “Getting It On,” which he later published under the pseudonym Richard Bachman as Rage (Russell 4).
Rage is about Charlie Decker, a high school outcast who, “spreads sufficient destruction (physical and psychical) with only a pistol” (Collings 14). Charlie wasn’t always an outcast; he became an outcast after, “almost [killing] Mr. Carlson,” his chemistry teacher (King 114). Charlie tried to kill Mr. Carlson because; “when Carlson called [him] up to do a problem on the board...he started to make fun of [him] (King 115). He was tired of being ridiculed by Mr. Carlson so he began to hit the black board with a pipe wrench he had hidden in his back pocket. When Mr. Carlson tried to grab Charlie, “[he] turned around and hit him” (116).
Mr. Carlson didn’t die, although he did suffer from “a hairline fracture just above the frontal lobe” and four splinters of bone were picked out of his brain (116). Charlie never saw the pipe that he used to hit Mr. Carlson again, but he didn’t care because“[he] didn’t need that anymore, …that stick wasn’t big enough.
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None of Charlie’s teachers knew that he was carrying a gun to school, which is similar to American students who have gone undetected while carrying guns to school because, “during the course of any day, public high school teachers may instruct upwards of 100 students” (Lloyd 5). When a teacher has the responsibility of teaching 100 or more students, it can be difficult to notice every change in a student’s attitude; some students have a gift for hiding their emotions.
Charlie honestly felt that he did nothing wrong; therefore he never apologized to Mr. Carlson. He figured he shouldn’t have to apologize because “he got no apology for being badgered in front of the chemistry class as [he] stood sweating at the blackboard...” (116). However, Charlie did not go unpunished for his act of violence, in fact he was suspended from school for a week and, “spent five hours in a holding cell...before [his] father and…hysterical mother...forked over the bail money¾the charges, at the joint agreement of the school, the cops, and Mr. Carlson, ....had been dropped later” (116-117).
That evening after the excitement was over, and Charlie’s mother had finally gone to bed, Charlie’s father, Carl, told him to meet him “out in the garage after [he] had changed his clothes” (116). Charlie knew that Carl was going to chastise him, and when he went into the garage, Carl began taking off his belt. Charlie then took one look at the belt and began crying and cursing at his father. At that moment Carl became furious and said, “you better stop it Charlie, before I stop wanting to punish you and start wanting to kill you,” then Charlie replied, “I’ve been wanting to kill you for thirteen years” (117). Carl disregarded his son’s threat and, hit him with the belt anyway, “the buckle came along side [his] face ripped into [his] cheek, pulling it open in a long furrow” (118). Many citizens believe that parents are to blame for the violent act their children commit. For example, in the recent shooting committed by Eric Harris and Dylan Klebold at Columbine High School in Littleton, CO, “prosecutors are considering charging the parents of the two boys as accomplices to the murders or with negligence” (Scott, 9)
No one knew that Charlie’s father was abusing him, but this abuse was just one of the reasons that caused Charlie to hold his class hostage. The other reason had to with Mr. Denver, the H.S. principal, and Mr. Grace, the H.S. psychiatrist. A week after Charlie’s suspension, he returned to school only to start another violent episode. While Charlie was sitting in his algebra class listening to his teacher Mrs. Underwood, he heard Mr. Denver’s secretary over the intercom asking him to report to the principal’s office.
Once Charlie arrived at the administrative office, he was called into Mr. Denver’s office, to discuss whether or not he would be expelled from school. Charlie immediately became bored, was tired of being lectured to by the principal and the school psychiatrist, because they never really listened to him. He showed all the signs of a child being abused at home, but no one cared enough to notice. Furthermore, Charlie believed that Mr. Denver and Mr. Grace “...[were] not qualified to deal with [him]” (18).
Finally, Mr. Denver said the words that would cause Charlie to, “get it on,” and those words were, “You are disturbed Charlie” (18). After hearing those words ringing in his head, Charlie began screaming and cursing at Mr. Denver. The principal could no longer tolerate Charlie’s unpredictable and dangerous behavior; therefore he told him to, “Get out, get [his] books, turn them in..., and then get out” (20). Charlie’s education at Placerville H.S. was over, so he “went ahead and got it on” (21). He figured that since no one would listen to him, he would make everyone listen.
First, he left the office, went to his locker, and ripped up all his books, then set them on fire. Next, he removed his father’s loaded pistol from the top shelf, and went back to his algebra class in room 16. When Charlie entered the classroom, and Mrs. Underwood asked him if he had an office pass, he said yes, “and shot her in the head” (26). The moment Charlie shot his teacher, the fire alarm went off, and everyone except the students in room 16 left the building. No one in room 16 said anything; “they sat in utter stunned silence, looking at [Charlie] attentively” (29).
Although the fire in Charlie’s locker was put out, Mr. Vance the history teacher went back into the building because he noticed that Mrs. Underwood’s class was missing. When Mr. Vance opened the door Charlie pointed the pistol at him and told him to get out, and when he didn’t, Charlie shot at him. The bullet missed Mr. Vance but, “the second bullet caught him in the throat” (30). After witnessing the death of the history teacher, Mr. Grace, the school psychiatrist tried to talk to Charlie over the intercom, but:
Charlie [turned] the game on Grace, forcing the psychiatrist to reveal his own motives, sexual practice, hopes, and frustrations. Charlie [tried] to break him, threatening to shoot a hostage if Grace [left] the intercom without permission. Grace [argued] that he [couldn’t] take the responsibility. “My God, you’ve been taking the responsibility ever since they let you loose from college” (81), Charlie [screamed]; now that Grace [had] an opportunity to be truly responsible for life or death, he [backed] away. By the end of the conversation, Grace [was] destroyed psychologically, a state reflected in his physical stance as he [walked] like an old man from the building. (Collings 28-29)
Since the students in room 16 were surprisingly quiet, and no one seemed to mind Charlie’s act of violence, he began to play a psychological game with the students and, “the purpose of the game [was] to introduce adolescents into the adult world. The rules [established] roles for adult and child alike, but the adult (Mr. Grace) [had] broken the rules. ...Leaving the children to work out things for themselves” (Collings 31).
The class turned into a live confessional, after Charlie told the students about the abuse he received from his father. As soon as Charlie felt as if he had control over the situation in the classroom, “control [slipped] from [him] as individuals [spoke] out, publicly working through their private frustrations” (34). None of the students seemed to judge him at all, if anything they sympathized with him. The only person that didn’t join in the stress relieving activity was Ted Jones.
From the beginning Ted Jones opposed Charlie Decker. They [represented] different social levels. ...Ted [was] a mover and a doer. He [wore] the right clothes, [drove] the right car. His parents [belonged] to the right circles. In everything, Ted [was] what Charlie [was] not. (37)
When every one was done talking, Charlie asked the class, “who knows the final order of business?” (King 120). Susan Brooks, one of the hostages replied, “we have to show Ted where he has gone wrong,” at which time Ted replied by saying, “you’re not going to play tricks with me Charlie, I’m not saying a darn thing. I’ll save my speech for when we get out of here” (121). Then Susan and Ted began to argue:
“We’ve learned some very good things about our selves Ted,” Susan said coldly. “I don’t thing you’re being very helpful, closing yourself in and trying to be superior. Don’t you realize that this could be the most meaningful experience of our lives?”
“He’s a killer,” Ted said tightly. “He killed two people. This isn’t TV. Those people aren’t going to get up and go off to their dressing rooms to wait for the next take. They’re really dead. He killed them.” (121)
The students in room 16 had formed a unique friendship among each other. They didn’t want anyone to stray from the group, and that is what Ted wanted to do. It was children against adults, and Ted was acting like an adult. The students felt as if he thought he was somehow more mature than they were.
Ted was shocked that everyone seemed to forget the fact that Charlie had killed two teachers. He felt embarrassed because, “[He] didn’t think anybody’d find out about [him] banging sandy,” or the fact that he had to drop football because his mother was an alcoholic and couldn’t take care of his brother and sister (122). He also felt isolated because he didn’t want to tell the students any more than they already knew. Once Ted noticed that the students in room 16 wanted to know about his private life, he tried to leave in spite of the pistol Charlie was pointing at him. Before Ted could get half way to the door everyone in the classroom attacked him except for Charlie:
They were moving around him in a slow kind of dance that was nearly beautiful. Fingers pinched and pulled, questions were asked, accusations made. Irma Bates pushed a ruler down the back of his pants. Somehow his shirt was ripped off and flew to the back of the room in two tatters. Ted was breathing in great, high woops. Anne Lasky began to rub the bridge of his nose with an eraser. Corky scurried back to his desk like a good mouse, found a bottle of Carter’s ink, and dumped it in his hair. Hands flew out like birds and rubbed it in briskly. Ted began to weep and talk in strange, unconnected phrases. (125)
After beating Ted half to death, the children left the classroom as if nothing had happened. They had all ventilated their anger and hopelessness on Ted because; “[He had come to stand for the illusions foisted on children by parents, by school, and by society as a whole. In order to shatter their individual illusions and delusions, the students had to shatter him as well (39).
After the whole ordeal, Charlie Decker and Ted Jones were taken to a mental institution. All Charlie needed was someone he could really talk to about his problems. He had no one to turn to. The principal and school psychiatrist didn’t care about him they only cared about their reputation and career.
The problems of society can hurt and corrupt children. The American school system is a perfect example of what a deteriorating society can do to a child’s life. The only thing children can relate to is violence, since it is the most primitive and spontaneous way to relieve their frustrations. For example, the recent shootings at Columbine H.S. in Littleton, CO claimed the lives of fifteen people, two of whom were the shooters. After shooting thirteen people, the shooters committed suicide. Children need to be heard, because they are people too, they feel pain and disparity, and just like an adult when they feel they no longer have control over their lives they sometimes become violent. The violent events that have occurred in American schools is similar to the rage expressed in Stephen King’s novel, Rage, which was written over thirty years ago, and now there are children just like Charlie Decker waiting for the opportunity to, “get it on.”
Collings, Michael. Stephen King as Richard Bachman. Washington: Starmont House, Inc., 1985.
King, Stephen. The Bachman Books: Four Novels By Stephen King. New York: NAL Books: New American Library, 1985.
Lloyd, Jillian. “Teachers’ Difficult Role In Preventing Violence.” Christian Science Monitor 26 April 1999. Christian Science Publishing Society. 16 pars. Online. Internet. 5 May 1999. Available HTTP: search.inspire-indiana.net.
Magistrale, Tony. Landscape of Fear: Stephen King’s American Gothic. Bowling Green State University: Popular Press, 1988.
Russell, Sharon A. Stephen King: A Critical Companion. Westport, Connecticut: Greenwood Press, 1996.
Scott, David Clark. “Parental Finger Pointing.” Christian Science Monitor 28 April 1999. Christian Science Publishing Society. 16 pars. Online. Internet. 5 May 1999. Available HTTP: search.inspire-indiana.net.