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The Interpretation of Horror Fiction

Fear is one of the oldest emotions known to man, and it is the strongest. The fear of the unknown keeps many up at night to wonder what lurks outside their window. Horror, as defined by Webster, is “a painful intense fear” of the unknown. The genre of horror has been a part of American popular culture since the start of the free world, and it has been able to span decades without losing any of its initial intrigue. As a society, we have an insatiable “appetite for violence and the emotions of fear, disgust, and fascination” which has grown with the ever-changing population through the years, giving this genre its lasting qualities Albright).

In recent years, horror fiction novels have gained uncanny popularity. A horror fiction is categorized as “[any] fiction in any media intended to scare, unsettle, or horrify the reader”; the intention of horror fiction is to evoke a sense of fear within the eager booklover (Answers. com). Like sex, horror is seductive – enticing the reader to accept the forbidden; allowing a fascination with the carnal, the forbidden; titillating the mind as sex does both the mind and sense.

Reading horror is an act of consensual Masochism: you willingly submit to the pleasures of fear – care me! Please? (Guran) Readers love to be scared and frightened. The feelings of fear and fright are what continue to propel the genre of horror forward and sustain it as a lasting staple of popular culture. Historically, the cause of horror has been the intrusion of an evil, or occasionally misunderstood, supernatural element into everyday human experience (Answers. com).

Many authors and screenwriters still use the genre of horror to depict supernatural entities and ideas as well as images of unrealistic terrors. Modern “practitioners of the genre” often resort to xtremes of violence, which tends to give horror fiction “a stigma as base entertainment devoid of literary merit” (Answers. com). However, contemporary writers such as Stephen King are often able to pull off the horror effect without the excessive violence and gore. King uses horror to play on his reader’s fears, drawing them into his narratives and making his fictitious tales reality (Albright).

His contemporary writings make use of popular culture as well as “massed-produced artifacts” and language to create a vivid visual image, making his stories credible and believable for many readers (Meyers 2043). Often, the horror of his stories result from a social reality, not that of a supernatural influence or entity, meaning that there is a breakdown of social structure and normalcy, no ghosts, goblins, or boogie-men (Albright). Any literature that evokes an “intense fear” is considered a horror. King’s book Everything Is Eventual is a compilation of short stories that tap into the realms of terror and horror.

His short story “All that you love will be carried away”, taken from the book, is a horror story that reflects the fascinations of a man with bathroom wall graffiti, his internal struggle and contemplations of uicide, and the fear of the views of society post death. King’s use of character, setting, foreshadow, and language help catapult this story into the horror genre. King starts his story in medias res, where the main character, Alfie, is contemplating suicide. Alfie grapples with the idea of putting a bullet through the back of his head.

In addition, he debates whether to part with his notebook, which has become his “old pal” and the only form of communication on his long and lonely journeys (King, 81). Part of what makes this story a horror is Alfie’s fear and knowledge of the known, his ife; Alfie is fearful of continuing his life in the same manner as it has been going. He knows “he [can’t] go on living the way he [has] been” and believes that “a shot in the mouth would be much easier than any living change” (King, 89).

This inner turmoil incites the emotions of fear placing the story in the genre of horror. He considers himself to be “a little man, [… , with a little man’s job” which shows the despair he has for his life (King, 86). The reader is given a glimpse at what appears to be a man’s life, prior to his foreseen suicide. Given the knowledge that he plans to ill himself, the reader is compelled to continue by either fascination or mere curiosity. However, there is no definitive answer to this tale. King leaves the story with an uncertain and ambiguous ending where Alfie is still contemplating his suicide. By leaving the ending blank, the reader is left hanging to formulate his or her own conclusion. Would Alfie live or would he end his life?

The unknown ending is interpreted by how the reader views the main character and his situation. The unfolding plot, which foreshadows his intent, plays a role in the horror aspect of the story. King’s intentions in the story are to depict a real character in a situation that would cause fear amongst his readers. Alfie evolves throughout the selection into a round character due to his puzzling fascination. He is first presented as a very believable and acceptable member of today’s society. Alfie possesses many characteristics of a depressed and unhappy displaced worker in the American population.

The reader is given a look into Alfie’s mundane and repetitious life: “He had done most of it before, actually, and supposed that was at least part of the problem” (King, 82). The description of his life to some can be read as horrific due to his boring repetitious work and little communication with others. Alfie later develops into a more complex character with a fetish of sorts: “Amassing graffiti – thinking about graffiti-[… ]” (King, 87). His compulsion to record this graffiti has been his true “work”, not the selling of frozen foods. As early as the first paragraph the reader is given a preview of the intent of the individual.

It is not until Alfie is expanded further as a character that we learn the exact root of his fears and what lies in his short future. He has led a reclusive and desolate life, where his estranged family “lived in a world that [has] little to do with the interstate”, and he doesn’t feel the need to go on and knows death will bring an end to the fear of his life (King, 88). He briefly considers the effects his suicide will have on his family: Her teammates would say most of the same things the supermarket ladies would say, only within earshot and accompanied by those chilling seventh- grade giggles.

Eyes full of glee and horror. Was that fair? No of course not, but there was othing fair about what happened to him either. (King, 87) Here, Alfie is thinking about what his daughter will have to deal with. He plays out the possible scenario in his mind. It is interesting that he also ponders how what “happened” to him is not fair in regards to his daughters suffering. He is struggling with his decision; whether or not to end his life on the pretense of his suffering or the suffering his family will face. He does not fear death, in fact “he meant to [kill himself]” (King, 84).

In a sense he embraces it. The internal conflict sets the stage for he plot of the story and causes some of the fear born by the main character. His intentions and actions are foreshadowed from the start of the story provoking the horror element within the text. King uses colloquial language and popular culture placing Alfie right in the center of the 21st century. The story gives the reader a very visual and comprehensive orientation of what Alfie sees and feels. The fear of what he plans to do, of what humans are capable of, lends to the idea of horror.

This causes a sort of excitement and arousal of fearful emotions for the reader. Throughout the piece King nonchalantly makes mention of Alfie’s intentions, “… where he intended to kill himself”, as if it is the most natural thing in the world (King, 82). The foreshadowing used gives the reader a sense of fear for the main character as the plot unfolds, and our cultural fascination with death holds the readers attention. At the end of the first paragraph, Alfie is thinking about the weather and “that [it is] nothing” to him because he does not plan to be around for the bad weather that is predicted to come (King, 81).

The mention of bad weather coming is a bit of foreshadowing that represents the impending doom in Alfie’s life. He is complacent with and accepting of the idea of death. Throughout the text, the foreshadowing shows Alfie’s unconcerned attitude towards his suicide: “… , wondering why he or anyone would continue anything this close to ending everything” (King, 84). The contentment that Alfie perceives he will gain in death incites emotions of fear categorizing this story as a horror fiction. Alfie would be the protagonist within the story and his mind and thoughts would be his antagonist.

He is fighting against his own thoughts and feelings and his free will. King’s foreshadow f the internal conflict Alfie is wrestling with gives the reader insight as to what to expect from the story. However, the reader is then left to decide on his or her own how the plot concludes. Throughout the story, King uses descriptive diction to create vivid imagery making the story credible and forcing the reader to imagine foreboding horror and death. The description of “the room of [Alfie’s] dreams” is horrific, if not ironic (King, 83).

It is described as being “square” with white walls and “a quarter-inch of” green “nubby synthetic stuff” (King, 83). It is like many rooms he has seen before which takes the eader back to the horrific thought of mundane repetition. The description of the “pillows [looking] like the corpses of infants” as well as the “ghosts of dead flies” evokes different images in the minds of readers (King, 83). The connotations the reader may take from the words used to describe the room will determine how horrific or fearful the room is perceived.

In a culture that holds death and violence in such high regard, these descriptions will no doubt force images and thoughts that will arouse fears. King’s choice of language and words place this particular story in the realm of horror. The simple talk of a “grimy basin under a scratched steel mirror half filled with [blood]” is something straight out of a modern horror movie (King, 88). The story holds such realistic setting with the descriptive elements of unknown terror inflicted upon it.

There are no supernatural entities or beings, yet the very description of inanimate objects holds connotations of such: “In some rest areas the weather report fell constantly from overhead speakers, [… ], the voice of a ghost running through the vocal cords of a corpse” (King, 88). The real horror is merely the thoughts and turmoil of the main character set in the mental rientation of a ghastly scene. The imagery helps develop the story into a horror fiction by adding vivid visual and tangible images.

As a society, we like to see and hear about death. It is, in a sense, our “notebook” or fascination. The “moral order” in many of King’s novels and short stories is often “ambiguous, with no clear victor” (Albright). “All That You Love Will Be Carried Away” is no different. The story has no ending allowing the readers to formulate a conclusion. Would Alfie live, or would he end his life? Given a normal Stephen King novel, one would believe that Alfie would kill himself. That is the nature of his stories.

With this particular piece being different, would the story end in a more positive light? The story is not your typical gore riddled tale. It plays more on the psyche and relies on the reader to interpret the fear of the main character. Yet, it falls within the ever-popular horror fiction genre through King’s use of character, setting, foreshadow, and language. His clever organization of the story creates the fear of the known that defines a horror as such. Ultimately, how the story is viewed and interpreted depends on the imagination of the reader.

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