Stephen King and his contribution to American literature
Although literature can be rightly termed as a pure form of expression of ideas and thoughts, but its overall effectiveness, and durability of message it aims to spread, is linked to the fact that how effective it is in molding both individual and collective thought process of its audience. In this regard, the role of literary figures is of paramount significance as they not only present their ideas to society, but they also exhibit to a larger extent, through their writings, the prevailing mood and conscience of society coupled with its overall strengths and weaknesses.
In this thesis paper, an effort has been made to have a look and present the thoughts for the overall literary profile of Stephen King and his contribution to American literature.
While looking at the works of Stephen King with the objective of finding its effect and contribution to American literature, there is neither any critique to his work nor any comparison with that of his peers and predecessors in this paper.
On the other hand, through this thesis paper, an attempt has been made to look at different genres of literature in which Stephen King has presented his ideas, brief review of his work in the genre of horror, his work in the domain of science fiction, his efforts and acclaim for drama and suspense, his guidance and direction to budding and emerging writers, his profile and standings while considering the notion of popularity versus critical accolade for writers, and the adaption of his work into films and TV presentations. While doing this, focus has been kept towards ascertaining his contribution to American literature coupled with discussing some of his large volumes of literary efforts.
To start with, one important aspect of the overall success of Stephen King as author, and his overall contribution to American literature, is the choice of genres for his writings. By just having a cursory look at his works, it can be observed that he has mainly contributed for horror, suspense, science fiction and fantasy fiction (King, A Memoir of the Craft). By some counts, these genres can’t be termed as mainstreamed in terms of classic literature, but they are very much contemporary and thus possess a wider reach, following and influence on his readers, and much deserved acclaim for himself. By having an analysis to it, it can be deduced that Stephen King’s literary work is mainly in the contemporary genres of literature thus presenting the ideas and thoughts for present-day audience.
It is a known fact that horror, most of the time and barring some exceptions, coincides with some sort of tragedy, deprivation and/or cruelty. By having a depiction of horror in various forms and through different characters, a writer usually strives to highlight some of the many anomalies prevailing in society in one form or the other. Subsequently, this depiction and highlighting not only unveils some ugly but ignored realities but it also helps in making realization and awareness to eradicate them. This deliberate effort is very much obvious in Stephen King’s work in horror genre as he successfully weaves the strings of sadness and tragedy with that of horror, thus giving it a shape for readers to attract and read (King, A Memoir of the Craft). At this point, there is need to answer the question about the necessity of wrapping the problems of society in horror so as to make it both acceptable and attractive to read as literature.
Furthermore, literature as a whole has to be compelling and appealing enough to reach to the hands of the readers, and subsequently to their hearts and minds. As far as Stephen King is concerned, it seems that if a deliberate and conscious efforts has been made by him, thorough his horror writings, to adopt the most conducive yet interesting way of writing thus to capture the maximum possible attention of his readers. This not only results in conveying the intended message as full, but it also leaves some impressions in the minds of the readers thus having stimulation to ponder upon it.
While reinforcing the above-mentioned argument, Stephen King’s novel Carrie (1974) can be taken as the reference and discussion point.
Carrie revolves around the character Carrietta White with her troubled childhood and psychic powers (King, Carrie). While portraying the character Carrie and some of the incidents in her life, Stephen King has very successfully discussed very common yet generally ignored and forgotten issue of lost childhood and its overall repercussion on one’s life (King, Carrie). In this way, and under some support of horror, Stephen King has successfully conveyed the message to his audience, and has provided much-required food for thought as well. Moreover, this can also be termed as message-oriented writing and thus a substantial contribution to literature.
An interesting and relatively difficult genre of literature that can be found in Stephen King’s profile is of science fiction. The difficulty in this type of literature is mainly two-pronged. Firstly, a writer of science fiction has to be well-acquainted with the latest, and to some extent of near future, scientific trends and advancements so that to portray and build a nice plot out of them. This is particularly important due to the rapid growth in the domains of science and technology, and the overall reach and usage by masses. Secondly, and even more important than the preceding reason, the subject of science fiction is mostly targeted towards the audience of younger age who has lesser inclination and keenness towards reading literature and books as compared to access to Internet, TV and other media. In this regard, Stephen King has made an excellent effort of not only demonstrating the overall reach and growth of science and technology, but also the darker side of this advancement and its adverse effect of human lives. As an advocacy of my point, a brief reference to Stephen King’s novel The Stand: The Complete & Uncut Edition (1990) can be made here.
The Stand: The Complete & Uncut Edition revolves around the concept of use of biological weapons by humans, and thus having destruction and apocalyptic scenario for the mankind (King, The Stand: The Complete & Uncut Edition). While presenting his thoughts trough this novel, Stephen King has touched upon and discussed a major subject of dangerous and wide-spread nuisance of weapons of mass destruction on our planet Earth (King, The Stand: The Complete & Uncut Edition). Moreover, he gives a very important message of learning by mistakes. This particular effort by Stephen King, and its mentioning here in thesis paper, raises an important question: how realistic fiction should be as a form of literature?
It can be said without any exaggeration that fiction as a genre of literature has attained significant acceptability and following among the masses due to its very nature of presenting the images and fancy ideas for its audience. On the other hand, a writer has to maintain a balance while creating a fantasy world for its readers thus giving a reality check from time to time in his/her writings. This particular characteristic is truly reflective in the fictitious writings of Stephen King as he tries to convey some message to its audience and make them realized to harsh realities as well.
Discussion on Stephen King and his contribution to American literature would certainly be incomplete without the mentioning of his great novel Rita Hayworth and Shawshank Redemption (1982). Although it can be placed in the genre of drama and suspense, but it can also serve as the case study and piece of writing with almost everything in it: from betrayal to commentary on judicial and jail system, institutionalization of people and places, motivation and zeal, trauma of life, hope and despair, and above all the life itself (King, Rita Hayworth and Shawshank Redemption). Through all this, Stephen King has made an excellent effort of combining various messages and dimensions of life yet giving it a simple touch for readers. This quality of presenting multiple and difficult ideas and thoughts in one single novel will always be remembered as one of the greatest contribution of Stephen King for American literature.
Another very vital aspect of contribution to literature by an author is his/her overall ability to encourage, and in some cases convince, people in general and the budding writers in particular to think and write. This aspect should not be taken and considered as only a method of ensuring the existence of writers in the times to come, but it should be viewed in the context of having literature as a mean of expressing ideas and highlighting both the positive and negative aspects of society. As far as Stephen King is considered, he can be rightly termed as an author who tries to simplify the overall art of writing, and thus while doing so, portrays and justifies it as a profession like any other (King, On Writing: A Memoir of the Craft). This is particularly important while having the objective of transferring your own skills and abilities to next generation and thus giving the required guidance and the direction to excel.
Another very major aspect for literary figures and their contribution to literature is the comparison between popularity and critical accolade. It has been generally observed and seen, although with bit surprise and questioning, that popularity of an author in masses is not taken and considered as identical to critical accolade and appreciation by critics. This notion is further strengthen by the fact that popular writers scarcely make to the wining stands for literally awards and recognitions. But in the case of Stephen King, it has been somewhat proved to be as false as he was awarded Medal for Distinguished Contribution to American Letters by National Book Foundation in 2003 (Canadian Museum of Civilization). This clearly speaks for the overall achievements and the contribution of Stephen King to American literature, and its due recognition by both critics and general masses.
Adaption of literary work into films and TV presentations has long and always been seen as a de facto criterion for judging the overall success and popularity for any literary figure. This criterion has taken its firm roots particularly after the advent and widespread reach of motion pictures and TV. Furthermore, this is also due to the fact that performing arts provide a quicker and faster-to-spread means of presenting your work, and thus to have popularity and acclaim. In this criterion as well, Stephen King is up to the mark as many of his writing works have been adapted into films and TV productions. Subsequently, most of these adaptations have gained success and appreciation by their audiences and critics. This certainly provides a valuable food for thought for the students of performing arts as they can analyze and understand the significance of writing for any production.
While rounding out my discussion and presenting some sort of conclusion at this stage, it can be stated with profound ease and confidence that over the years Stephen King has earned the much-deserved acclaim and popularity as a contemporary author to place his name among the leading contributors to American literature. Furthermore, this position and profile for Stephen King will always be remembered and cherished, both in present times and future, through his wonderful pieces of writing.
Canadian Museum of Civilization. Canadian Museum of Civilization Corporation, 2007. Web. 5 July 2010.
King, Stephen. On Writing: A Memoir of the Craft. US: Scribner, 2000. Print
King, Stephen. The Stand. US: Doubleday, 1978. Print
King, Stephen. Carrie. US: Doubleday, 1974. Print
King, Stephen. Rita Hayworth and Shawshank Redemption. US: Viking Press. 1982. Print
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