Why Think Evil? Evil Unbound in King's Misery

Research output: Chapter in Book/Conference proceedingChapterScientificpeer-review


On the subject of evil, thinkers often resort to arguments about its utter unthinkability. Hannah Arendt famously asserted the banality of evil: evil was a convenient propagandistic word choice which, in the context of the two world wars, could “lay waste the whole world” (see Wheatcroft, 2008, p. 251). The word “evil” owes its versatility to its vacuity. It has also been claimed that the meaning of evil did not evolve beyond its biblical origin—as God’s foil—and since it vaguely meant “bad,” it has been exploited by warmongering politicians. In light of the subsequent war-time destructions and causalities, it has become important to think “evil” unthinkable. Yet, even so, horror stories about agents of evil continue to be told, as though it were not only necessary but, indeed, viable to think the unthinkable.

This chapter concerns Stephen King’s Misery, where evil manifests itself not as supernatural being with an obscure origin, but instead as a human being, an everyday working American. I argue that realistic descriptions of everyday things and familiar people reorient the horror narrative outwards, embedding it in a web of established social meaning. King embraces literary realism in Misery, making it, in regard to twenty-first-century horror, something akin to terror of the Gothic variety: if it is not possible to scrutinize evil, can we at least see it darkly through everyday scenarios, where it may take on specific social significance? I argue that this idea of situated everyday evil is something readers may recall out-of- context, long after encountering King’s textual suggestions of evil. Involuntary remembrance projects onto the horror text an extratextual layer. It is possible, then, to think evil so long as the means of thinking it is unbounded, infinite, and the artifice of the text is consistent of shifting beginnings, middles, and ends.

Keywords: Misery, narrative, evil, representation, terror, Gothic
Original languageEnglish
Title of host publicationEveryday Evil in Stephen King's America
Publication statusAccepted/In press - 2024
MoE publication typeA3 Part of a book or another research book


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