Study Guide

Carrie

by Stephen King

Carrie Summary

Summary (Masterpieces of American Literature)

King’s first published novel. Carrie, is also one of his most unusual efforts in its style. Only about half the story is written in traditional narrative form: The remainder uses what is called the epistolary style, meaning that the action is carried forward through the use of fictional letters, newspaper pieces, academic journal articles, and selections from books written by witnesses to the events long after their occurrence.

The novel’s main character is Carrie White, a high school senior trapped between two equally horrible kinds of existence. At home, Carrie is smothered by a mother who is a fanatical religious fundamentalist and has cut the girl off from all normal social life. To Margaret White, all women are, like Eve, egregiously sinful. Carrie is God’s punishment for her own sin of once allowing her now-dead husband to touch her. The daughter has spent her whole home life praying, asking forgiveness for her sins, or being locked up in a closet as punishment for unholy thoughts.

The other half of Carrie’s life is perhaps even worse: At school, she is a social pariah. Her quiet religious demeanor, modest clothing, clumsiness, and dull appearance have made her the perpetual target of teasing, crude practical jokes, and all the meanness that children can inflict upon one another. The novel begins, in fact, with an incident that illustrates Carrie’s terrible predicament. While showering after gym class, Carrie experiences her first menstruation. She has no idea what is happening because her mother, believing that periods are the evidence of sin, has never mentioned them. Quite logically, Carrie believes she is bleeding to death. Her classmates, however, unaware of Carrie’s ignorance, begin contemptuously laughing, chanting “PER-iod!” and throwing tampons at her. Carrie’s screams bring in her gym teacher, who begins to understand the situation and helps Carrie to recover and go home.

With the onset of her womanhood, Carrie for the first time becomes fully conscious that she possesses a tremendous telekinetic power (“telekinesis” is the...

(The entire section is 862 words.)

Carrie Summary (Critical Survey of Literature for Students)

Carrie White lives alone with her mother, Margaret, a domineering woman and a religious fanatic, in the small town of Chamberlain, Maine. Carrie’s parents had left the local Baptist church many years before, because it was too liberal for them, and they never found any other church in the area that was up to their traditional standards. Carrie’s father died in an industrial accident before Carrie was born, and her mother supplements the money from the insurance by working in a laundry.

Margaret conducts worship services for herself and Carrie on Sundays, Tuesdays, and Fridays. She makes Carrie wear homemade clothing and forbids her from wearing makeup. Margaret regards sex, even within a Christian marriage, to be inherently sinful, and she still feels guilty for submitting to her husband when they conceived Carrie.

Carrie is at the bottom of the pecking order in her high school. She is overweight, her face has pimples, and she has no friends or even friendly acquaintances. Carrie is quite different in another way, too, because she has the power of telekinesis, the ability to move objects by the force of her mind alone. When she was four years old, she had made stones fall like rain on her mother’s house because her mother frightened her.

Carrie’s power remains dormant until she has her first menstrual period. Unfortunately, she has her first period in the shower at high school. Because her mother had not educated her about menstruation, Carrie panics and believes she is bleeding to death. Led by classmate Chris Hargensen, the other girls scream “period” and “plug it up” and throw sanitary napkins at her. Rita Desjardin, the gym teacher, stops them and sends them to their next classes. She then realizes that Carrie does not understand what has happened. She cleans her up and sends her home, where her mother locks her in a closet....

(The entire section is 770 words.)