Analysis of Stephen King's Novel Pet Sematary: The Acceptance of Grief
“Sometimes, dead is better.” (King, XV) The novel intersects between both life and death which can be crossed but brings fatal consequences. King presents death in a horrifying matter and implies that if grief is avoided it can be worse. Death must be accepted because if we fail to cope with death then we will not be able to function with the present. In the novel, Pet Sematary, the events reflect off Stephen King’s personal experiences but distorts these experiences using horrific and suspenseful imagery. King thrills the audience by making it seem as if every page is the end.
Born on September 21, 1947 in Portland, Maine, Stephen Edwin King was raised mainly by his mother due to the separation of his father and mother. Stephen King’s mother, Nellie Ruth Pillsbury King, was left to support Stephen and her older child, David King. Ruth King took several low-income jobs in order to maintain the well-being of her family. Stephen’s father, Donald Edwin King, left a box of fantasy horror fiction books in which young Stephen found and entertained himself by reading all the books. As a result, he found his strong point in writing and began writing at the age of seven. “Writing has always been it for me,” King declared (Encyclopedia of World Biography, 4). When King was twelve, he submitted short fiction stories to magazines and even though he did not achieve selling his stories, he won first prize in an essay competition sponsored by a scholastic magazine. At the age of 18, King published his first story in a magazine named Comic Reviews (Encyclopedia of World Biography,4). King first attended grammar school then graduated from Lisbon Falls High School in 1966.
King pursued a bachelor’s degree at the University of Maine at Orono and participated in many events. His sophomore year, he began to write the weekly column for the school newspaper known as THE MAINE CAMPUS. King was active in student politics in which he became a member of the Student Senate and worked at the Folger library as a student. In addition, the Orono campus was holding an anti-war movement which King attended to support the opinion of the Vietnam War being unconstitutional. In 1970, he graduated from the University of Maine at Orono with a Bachelors of Arts degree in English. In 1971, he married a woman named Tabitha Spruce who attended the same university as well. After their marriage, King had a difficult time to find a placement as a teacher immediately, in order to maintain themselves, they lived off his incomes as a laborer in an industrial industry, his sales of short stories to men’s magazine, and both her savings and student loans. An opportunity arose in late 1971, he acquired a job at Hampden Academy, teaching high school English classes and still continued to write short stories. However, King’s editor, Bill Thompson from Doubleday & Co. stated that they had a major paperback issue which would result in King writing full-time and to leave his teaching job. Having access to writing full-time allowed King to write his first novel, Carrie which became a huge success and launched his career into becoming one of best writers of horror stories.
Stephen King’s novels consists of everyday situations which pays a significant amount of attention on the details of the story’s setting, the emotional feelings that the characters experience, and emphasizes modern problems. One of his greatest novels, Pet Sematary, was inspired by the events in his own life. He was invited to be a professor at the college he previously attended, University of Maine. King accepted the invitation and moved his family to a rural house in Orrington, Maine. Both King and his wife loved their new house but despised the busy road that passed their home. The Pet Sematary was inspired by real life events in King’s life such as the murderous road, a dead cat, a child-made pet cemetery in the woods that actually read ‘Pet Sematary.’
Stephen King believes that the novel Pet Sematary is one of the most frightening books that he has ever written. In fact, he thought he finally went too far. The novel involves the death of the character Gage Creed which was stirred by the near-death of his own son. King was able to stop his son on time but the horrifying thought of ‘what-if’ wouldn’t escape his mind. “What if he didn’t stop his son on time?” (Jackson, 7). This thought resulted in a gruesome book, disturbing enough to refrain King from publishing the book and remained in an empty drawer waiting to be read. However, the bestseller did not get its title by hiding in a drawer. Stephen terminated his relationship with his publishing company, Doubleday, but he owed a final novel before all accounts could be concluded. He only had one option in consideration which was the extraordinary novel, Pet Sematary. Not even King himself likes the novel, he publicly states, “If I had my way about it, I still would not have published Pet Sematary. I don’t like it. It’s a terrible book—not in terms of the writing, but it just spirals down into darkness. It seems to be saying that nothing works and nothing is worth it, and I don’t really believe that.” (Jackson, 16).
“Don’t go beyond, no matter how much you feel you need to, Doctor. The barrier was not made to be broken. Remember this: there is more power here than you know. It is old and always restless. Remember.” (King, 73). This quote is significant in the novel because these haunting words were given by the spirit of Victor Pascow, who died at Louis’ office but came back to life, to warn Louis Creed about how dangerous the cemetery was. The words of Victor’s spirit foreshadows the upcoming events and leaves the audience at the edge of their seat because the spirit has information that Louis Creed will not discover until much later. Despite the spirit’s warnings, Louis decided to ignore the words of Victor’s spirits. In the novel, the Creed’s family cat, Winston Churchill or Church, was killed in the deadly road that passed their house but didn’t want to break the devastating news to his daughter, Ellie. Jud Crandall helps Louis bring the Church back to life by burying the cat at the Pet Sematary. Crandall the reveals that it is an Indian burial ground which will revive Ellie’s beloved cat.
The following day, Church returns to the household, but he wasn’t quite the same as he was before. Although he wasn’t the same, Louis ignores it and decides to never tell his family. Unfortunately, the death of the family cat wasn’t the only death that occurred in the family. As the Creeds were having a family outdoor picnic, Gage wandered off without anyone noticing, once they came to the realization that their son was gone, it was too late. Gage went to the road and was killed by a speeding truck. Devastated by the loss of his son, Louis buried his son at the Pet Sematary not realizing the fatal consequences that he will face. As Louis arrived at the Crandall’s house after burying Gage, he could not believe what he saw. Two dead bodies on the floor. Louis’ wife, Rachel, and Jud Crandall, both murdered by his demonic son. Louis has no choice but to kill him. This event is significant because Louis could have avoided all these conflicts if he would’ve listened to the spirit of Victor Pascow, however, he could not handle the grief and the guilt that built up inside.
“What you buy is what you own, and sooner or later what you own will come back to you.” Louis Creed faced many conflicts and learned the hard way that everything you do; you have to pay a price and soon enough you will have to face the consequences. Louis suffered a tremendous loss and as any father would do, he revived him knowing the consequences that came with it. Throughout the novel, Louis hid the tragic events in order to save face which only made matters worse. It caused the death of his beloved wife and friendly neighbor. This quote not only speaks about Louis but speaks about society, we all suffer losses, but we have to accept death because as we constantly focus on the past, we will not be able to focus on the present. Jud Crandall had to accept the death of his wife and tried to tell Louis that he should also accept the death of his son, but his avoidance of grief got the best of him which made matters worse.
Not learning from his lesson, Louis buried his wife in the burial ground where his evil-spirited son revived. Instead of protecting and living for his daughter, he went the selfish route and decided to bring back his caring wife. His emotions were hectic and having to live with the guilt of three deaths can be exhausting but Stephen King gave a message in the novel, implying that death will always come and go, we must be learn how to accept it because if we don’t, we will only affect our loved ones.
Stephen King with more than 50 published novels, created one of the most frightening books he has ever completed. Although he loves to terrify people with his writing, especially after he made the audience love the characters, he believes that he crossed the line with this book. He used his personal experiences to create this horrifying novel which was originally not supposed to be published since it was based on the near-death of his son and the novel implied that nothing gets better from there unless death is accepted. Pet Sematary can relate to many grieving people because they cannot accept reality which affects everyone around them. This idea of the book makes King constantly question Jud Crandall’s horrid words, “Sometimes, dead is better,” perhaps that was grief’s last stage, we finally get tired of crying and feeling that pain deep inside. Avoiding grief can only cause much more pain and it is not as simple as hiding it in a drawer, waiting for a day to confront it.
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