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*SPOILER ALERT* ENGL (Popular Fiction): ‘The Shining’ Close Reading.

‘Here’s Johnny’: the scene in which Jack Nicholson’s madman news through a bathroom door in search of wife Wendy (Shelley Duvall) has been imitated countless times throughout pop culture (Warner Bros).

This close reading focuses to translate the aspect of nurture scenarios specifically on how such a traumatic, hatred-filled, and chaotic environment like family households: could play on a human being’s mental state.

This close reading will focus on a horror novel called “The Shining” by Stephen King. After reading the novel it has left a great interest to read more due to it being so thrilling and well written. King is well accredited for writing such magnificent works of literature so it being a complete surprise of how engaging the book is should not be doubted. After reading “The Shining”, It proved to be a mouth-dropping experience throughout yet a bittersweet feeling at the end of it all which balanced out the entire dynamic of what is within the plot.  You have to read to get a better sense of why it might be bittersweet. To specify, this paper will translate the aspect of nurture scenarios specifically of how such a traumatic, hatred-filled and chaotic environment or environments like family households could play on a human being’s mental state.

These aspects are real issues and concerns that are studied in real life given that those who are victims are being subjected to violence either by a close family member, friend or victimized by another of the same type of violence if they don’t seek OR not provide help throughout their lives. From the book, Jack Torrence’s character will solely be an example in this analysis as he is the most tortured in this book as well as being the tormentor in his own right which begs the question; if Jack’s behavior both from past and present experiences or moments stems from biological or environmental factors. This argument is significant as there are many stories in real life that can reflect off of the fictional character Jack Torrence’s experience on a more factual level especially when conducting the psyche of the individual who’s succumbed to their demons and have caused harm.

It is to be in-depth that Jack’s behaviors are spoken of.  King’s descriptive background of Torrence’s gives the reader an insightful source of what to expect from the present by looking into the past. For example, domestic violence and child abuse. These are not subtle or mild situations to speak of in general terms nor should they be taken lightly. Of this aspect; the violence that Jack inflicts onto his family can be greatly referenced to the traumatic events that were brought upon from his hood.

This proves to be a nurture scenario that ties into all environmental variables that can impact who we are. To clarify, especially our early childhood, all the more of how we were raised into our social relationships together with our surrounding culture. For instance, chapter four explains Jack’s drinking problem along with being mentally and physically abusive to his son and wife similar to what Jack’s father inflicted onto his family too. King describes, “Mommy’s DIVORCE thoughts centered around what Daddy had done to his arm” (45). This fragment piece of information sets up the tone that Jack has a temper and has broken Danny’s arm.

Jack and Wendy Torrence

How Jack broke Danny’s is further discussed in chapters sixteen and seventeen. Jack, Wendy, and Danny visit doctor Almonds because of Danny’s blackouts, and it is made known about the dysfunction in the household and of Jack’s temper how it was worse then. King depicts:

Shortly after Danny was born, I became an alcoholic. I’d had a drinking problem through college, it subsided a little after Wendy and I met, cropped up worse than ever after Danny was born and the writing I consider to be my real work was going badly. When Danny was three and a half, he spilled some beer on a bunch of papers I was working on … papers I was shuffling around, anyway … and I … well … oh shit.” His voice broke, but his eyes remained dry and unflinching. “It sounds so goddamn beastly said out loud. I broke his arm turning him around to spank him. Three months later I gave up drinking. I haven’t touched it since. (190)

Jack Torrence bar scene
Jack Torrence bar scene

With this given information it is made clear of Jack’s problematic behavior and drinking problem that highlights the dangerous extended level of him hurting someone. Another example of similar Jack to his father’s causing harm when drunk would be a look into Jack’s childhood. In chapter twenty-six, Jack sleeps and recalls a childhood memory through his dreams of when his family and he had dinner. It portrays how the dad was on a drunken binge and lost it as he had brutally beaten the mother with a cane for no reason then took her to the same hospital where he worked”, as stated by King (285). Not only did Jack suffer from abuse, but so did his mother.

Furthermore, Jack’s relationship with his father was greatly damaged because of the abuse. Even worse than his dad was passive-aggressive in how he showed his type of “love” to him. One moment he played the elevator game with Jack, but other days he would hit him across the face and yell at him. In correlation, King illustrates how Jack also openly slaps Danny in the face and yells at him when the child is in distress. It is a repeated cycle of the learned behavior of chaotic and sabotaging trauma from such a damaging environment that Jack grew up in and now that Danny is in.

Jack and Danny Torrence in their hotel suite.

By now it is to be said that there is enough to analyze, it seems that Jack has been made into this monster considering what he had gone through. Jack did not turn out to inflict monstrous pain onto others all by himself, but instead was subjected to pain, and then caused others pain because he didn’t know how to express his hurt. Instead of getting help to heal the trauma of what he had undergone, Jack let the affliction intensify when he was old enough to have a better sense of the world. A statement of King’s affirms this point as a whole is interestingly and neatly written from Al Shockley’s perspective, who is Jack’s friend who also has a great deal with alcoholism. Shockley pity’s Jack as he thinks trouble follows him as it has always been that way.

Shockley tries to compensate for his pity by constantly helping him with jobs due to his nasty physical behavior and alcoholism. As stated by King, “For he still felt that the whole range of unhappy Stovington experiences had to be looked at with Jack Torrance in the passive mode. He had not done things; things had been done to him” (142). 

Exploring this detail, it is clear that even in the present the same behavior is acted out from Jack when he loses his temper when pushed. In this case, besides Jack’s hot-headed characteristic to his personality, he was pushed by a student who’d fronted him on speeding the clock up because of the rich spoiled teenage child’s stuttering, and the situation escalated outside of the school due to a few exchanged words until it ended with the child hurt on the ground. Even though Jack is an adult his actions made it no better as this situation labeled him as a nasty person he was pushed to his breaking point because he couldn’t handle how he failed the student after all.

Another example that trouble follows Jack would be a more thorough analysis of the hardships from his past during his childhood, high school, and college years. Speaking of more physical abuse from Jack’s father, the details were way worse than just him slapping Jack across the face. The way King describes how harshly Jack’s father treated him is just heartbreaking and perhaps shows that possibly his father had grown up through the same “tough love” environment. King emphasizes,

He could remember himself at seven, spanked by a neighbor lady for playing with matches. He had gone out and hurled a rock at a passing car. His father had seen that, and he had descended on little Jacky, roaring. He had reddened Jack’s behind … and then blacked his eye. And when his father had gone into the house, muttering, to see what was on television, Jack had come upon a stray dog and had kicked it into the gutter. (142)

As has been noted, it is ruthless of his father to have beaten him like that to such an extent of blackening his eye. I do understand that discipline was needed to be instilled into him for playing with matches, but at a young age, surely, it was hard for him to handle. And how Jack processed or internalized that reaction afterward shows how poorly he took that as he kicked a stray dog into the gutter to release that anger. Into his middle school and high school years Jack had been in fights which resulted in numerous suspensions and detention visits (even though he maintained good grades) together with his college excessive drinking days which that habit parlayed into his adult life.

It is very interesting in the way that King sets up the tone of Jack’s background because it gives the reader a sense of what Jack went through as he has been failed. In chapter fourteen, another statement brings clarity as it is theorized of Jack’s psyche. According to King, “It had nothing to do with willpower, or the morality of drinking or the weakness or strength of his character. There was a broken switch somewhere inside, or a circuit breaker that didn’t work” (142). I wonder if King means that there has always been a broken switch somewhere inside of Jack all along which fueled his temper from emotional detachment due to his childhood trauma.  

It has been concluded that perhaps that the emotional detachment Jack suffers from stems from childhood trauma and abuse that was inflicted by his father. There seem to be many detailed scenarios that suggest so, and it is unfortunate because like Danny, Jack also loved his father unconditionally even though his siblings felt otherwise as in hatred. And Jack’s mother only stayed because she thought it was right to do so within her religion. Speaking of religion, there are two examples to be mentioned that King had skillfully written. One is that Jack’s mother “who rarely spoke above a mutter, only suffered him because her Catholic upbringing said that she must”, stated King (287).

In correlation, presently the aftermath from Jack’s encounters like breaking Danny’s arm, assaulting a student, verbally demeaning his wife, and his and Shockley’s car crash scare, etc have all resulted in him saying, “Dear God, I am not a son of a bitch. Please”, illustrated by King (147). These specific points tie together how Jack’s mother stayed and tolerated things from an abusive environment for the sake of her religion. King doesn’t specifically state why within the religion of Catholicism that a woman must stay with her husband especially if abusive, but leaves one to the imagination that possibly she was trying to change the father and give him a sense of love and faith. Considering how mute and controlled she was, this waters down that theory. The other example is that in the present tense Jack uses God’s name to write his wrongs which he pleads in guilt pathetically, and begs the question of whether his apology is authentic or not- not attuned like his father.

Even further interconnect, in chapter thirty-three King describes an experience that Jack had as a child in catechism class in which the nun had shown them a black and white picture on an as she called it “a miracle of God”. At first, his peers looked at it blankly but had picked up on it except for one. According to King:

Then one of the children in the third row gasped, “It’s Jesus!” and that child had gone home with a brand-new Testament and also a calendar because he had been first. The others stared even harder, Jacky Torrance among them. One by one the other kids had given a similar gasp, one little girl transported in near-ecstasy, crying out shrilly: “I see Him! I see Him!” She had also been rewarded with a Testament. At last, one had seen the face of Jesus in the jumble of blacks and whites except for Jacky. (355)

By how King explained this chapter, unlike his peers Jack convinced himself that he couldn’t see God because he was deemed as the worst sinner so he told Sister Beatrice that he saw the image even though he did not, but eventually he did. He failed to see it priorly. Referring back to the aspect of religion in this book, it just shows how both Jack and his mother’s perspectives differed as his mother felt more connected to her religion than Jack. The hypocrisy of Jack with religion is just as obvious in the present as it was in the past, and it is acknowledged that Jack’s father not being attuned with his faith shows.

To summarize, King has written a striking, exploratory, physiologically, and thrilling work of “The Shining”. It correspondingly sets up the foundation to this argument that Jack’s environment, specifically his household together with the traumatic abuse he endured contributed to his dysfunctional actions, suffering, and eventually his demise. Sure some suffer from having a “broken switch somewhere inside” from a more biological imbalance, but there are more examples of environmental or nurture scenarios that support this synopsis. 

Ready or not here I come.
Oh no…..
Jack Torrence’s evil eyes

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