Carrie is a novel by American author Stephen King. It was his first published novel, released on April 5, 1974, with an approximate first print-run of 30,000 copies. Set primarily in the then-future year of 1979, it revolves around the eponymous Carrie White, a misfit and bullied high school girl who uses her newly discovered telekinetic powers to exact revenge on those who torment her. While in this process, she causes one of the worst local disasters the town has ever had. 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 uses 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 sadistic classmates and her own mother Margaret.
Several adaptations of Carrie have been released, including a 1976 feature film, a 1988 Broadway musical as well as a 2012 off-Broadway revival, a 1999 feature film sequel, a 2002 television film and a 2013 feature film.
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."
First edition cover
|April 5, 1974|
|Media type||Print (Hardcover)|
Carietta "Carrie" White is a 16-year-old girl from Chamberlain, Maine. Her widowed mother Margaret, a fanatical Christian fundamentalist, has a vindictive and unstable personality and over the years has ruled Carrie harshly with repeated threats of damnation, as well as frequent physical abuse. Carrie does not fare much better at school, where her frumpy looks and lack of friends make her the subject of ridicule.
At the beginning of the novel, Carrie has her first period while showering after a physical education class. She has no understanding of menstruation as her mother never told her about it, believing it to be sin. Because of this, Carrie is convinced she is bleeding to death. Her classmates use the event as an opportunity to taunt her; led by Chris Hargensen, they throw tampons and sanitary napkins at her. When gym teacher Rita Desjardin happens upon the scene, she at first berates Carrie for her stupidity. However, she realizes that Carrie has no idea what is happening to her. In the midst of the commotion a lightbulb shatters above Carrie's head. Miss Desjardin excuses this and helps Carrie clean up and tries to explain. Carrie's mother shows no sympathy for her; she beats her and locks her into a "prayer closet", insisting that her first period is a punishment for some sort of sin.
Miss Desjardin, still incensed over the locker room incident and ashamed at her initial disgust with Carrie, wants all the girls who taunted Carrie suspended and banned from attending the school prom. However, because Principal Henry Grayle is intimidated by Chris's father, a prominent local lawyer, he instead punishes the girls by forcing them to attend a week-long boot-camp style after-school detention with Miss Desjardin in order to still be allowed to attend prom night. During an altercation with Miss Desjardin, Chris refuses to appear for the detention and tries unsuccessfully to rally her friends against her who would rather tough out the detention week so they could go to the prom that they have been looking forward to for the whole school year. As punishment, she is suspended and banned from the prom. At her behest, Mr. Hargensen tries to intimidate Mr. Grayle and the other administration into reinstating her privileges. However, despite his best efforts, Grayle remains firm and defends Miss Desjardin's punishment in revoking Chris's privileges and being banned from prom.
Carrie gradually discovers her dormant telekinetic powers which she had apparently possessed since birth. They were once again awoken during the period incident which caused her to unknowingly shatter the light bulb. She also begins to really understand that she is telepathic.
Meanwhile, Sue Snell, another popular girl who had earlier teased Carrie, begins to feel remorseful about her participation in the locker room antics. With the prom fast approaching, Sue convinces her boyfriend, Tommy Ross, one of the most popular boys in the school, to ask Carrie to the prom. Carrie is suspicious but accepts his offer, and makes a red velvet gown. Carrie's mother won't hear of her daughter doing anything so "carnal" as attending a school dance, as she believes that sex in any form is sinful, even after marriage. She also reveals that she knows about Carrie's telekinetic powers, which she considers a form of witchcraft; it seems that they appear every third generation in her family. Carrie, however, is tired of hearing that everything is a sin; she wants a normal life and sees the prom as a new beginning.
The prom initially goes well for Carrie; Tommy's friends are welcoming and Tommy finds himself attracted towards her. However, Chris and her boyfriend Billy Nolan have devised a scheme to get revenge on Carrie: they have filled two buckets with pig's blood and suspended them over the stage. With the help of several of their peers, they rig Carrie's election as prom queen and empty the buckets on Carrie's and Tommy's heads. One of the buckets hits Tommy in the head, mortally wounding him, and he and Carrie are both drenched in blood. Nearly everyone in attendance, even some of the teachers, begin laughing at Carrie. Finally pushed over the edge, Carrie leaves the building in agonized humiliation. However, she remembers her telekinesis, and decides to use it for vengeance. Initially planning only to lock all the doors and turn on the sprinklers, Carrie remembers the electrical equipment set up for the sound system but turns the sprinklers on anyway. Watching through the windows, she witnesses the deaths of two students and a school official by electrocution, and decides to kill everyone, causing a massive fire that destroys the school and traps almost everyone inside.
Walking home, she burns almost all of downtown Chamberlain by breaking power lines and exploding gas stations. A side-effect of her telekinesis is "broadcast" telepathy, which causes the city's inhabitants to become aware that the carnage was caused by Carrie White, even if they do not know who she is. Carrie returns home to her mother, who believes that Carrie has been possessed by Satan and that the only way to save her is to kill her. Margaret reveals that Carrie's conception was a result of a marital rape, and then stabs Carrie in the shoulder with a kitchen knife, but Carrie kills her mother by stopping her heart.
Mortally wounded but still alive, Carrie makes her way to destroy the local roadhouse where she was conceived. She sees Chris and Billy leaving; after Billy attempts to run her over, she telekinetically takes control of the vehicle and drives it into the building, killing Chris and Billy and setting the car and the building afire. Sue Snell, who has been following Carrie's telepathic "broadcast," finds Carrie collapsed in the parking lot. The two have a brief telepathic conversation. Though Carrie had believed that Sue and Tommy had set her up for the prank, Carrie realizes that Sue is innocent and has never felt any real animosity towards her. Carrie forgives her and dies crying out for her mother.
Miss Desjardin, one of the few survivors of the prom, resigns due to her guilt for not reaching out to Carrie sooner, even stating that she would rather kill herself than teach again. Henry Grayle also resigns out of remorse for not doing more to prevent the disaster. The surviving seniors attend a grim graduation ceremony.
The "Black Prom" is regarded in the book as one of the worst disasters in American history. Carrie's story becomes a controversial and highly discussed subject, and scientists begin to take the concept of telekinesis more seriously. With over 440 people dead and so much destroyed, Chamberlain becomes a virtual ghost town.
Excerpts from the hearings of a "White Committee" are presented; at the end, the report concludes that at least there are no others like Carrie White, so events like these will not happen again. However, the final document in the book is a cheery letter from an Appalachian woman to her sister in Georgia, talking about her baby daughter's telekinetic abilities, and reminiscing about her grandmother, who had similar abilities.
Carrie was actually King's fourth novel, but it was the first one 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 can. 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 can and encouraged him to finish the story, saying that she would help him with the female perspective; 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."
Stephen King notes in his book Danse Macabre that Carrie is an allegory for feminism:
Carrie is largely about how women find their own channels of power, and what men fear about women and women's sexuality...which is only to say that, writing the book in 1973... I was fully aware of what Women's Liberation implied... The book is...an uneasy masculine shrinking from a future of female equality. For me, Carrie White is a sadly misused teenager, an example of the sort of person whose spirit is so often broken for good in that pit of man- and woman-eaters that is your normal suburban high school. But she's also Woman, feeling her powers for the first time and, like Samson, pulling down the temple on everyone in sight... Carrie uses her "wild talent" to pull down the whole rotten society.
The character of Carrie White is based on a composite of two girls Stephen King observed while attending grade school and high school. Of one of them, he recalled:
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. According to one biography of King, later the girl "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. 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."
Recalling, King was not confident in the beginning of the novel, since he could not relate to Carrie's problems and doubted the significance of the novel. With the support of his wife Tabitha, then employed in a donut shop, he decided to proceed with his writings. King structured his novel in that in a way of multiple self-conscious narrators, having three narrators reinforces the novel's warning against the limitations of reason and the potential for abuse in the product of reason.
At the time of publication, King was working as a high school English teacher at Hampden Academy and barely making ends meet, although it has been presumed that King drew inspiration from his time as a teacher. 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 in late March or early April 1973 which read: "Carrie Officially A Doubleday Book. $2,500 Advance Against Royalties. Congrats, Kid - The Future Lies Ahead, Bill." According to King, he bought a new car with the money from the advance. Then, on Mother's Day, May 13, 1973, just a month or so later, New American Library bought the paperback rights for $400,000, which, according to King's contract with Doubleday, was split between them. King eventually resigned from 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.