Themes and Meanings

(Masterpieces of American Fiction)

The Dark Half is a sensational, wordy, and not well-resolved tale of conflict between King’s vision of what middle America regards as good and what can always be cataloged as evil. King gives substance to this struggle by revealing the troubling doubts, often moral ones, that evolve within his protagonist. The scene of this contest, as in other King books, is a small town, in this instance the fictional Castle Rock, Maine. The setting is deliberately conservative, a family-oriented small-town repository of solid American values. The world outside Castle Rock is one to which many of King’s characters are viscerally opposed. They fear and dislike the technocratic-managerial culture engulfing them, and they view its future in apocalyptic terms. Stark and Alexis Machine, as manifest pillars of destruction, are sufficient evidence of this.

All The Dark Half’s principal characters consequently are disparaging observers of big cities and big-city types. Thus New York is backhanded several times as the Maggoty Old Apple—a prejudice widely shared. The female photographer who comes to Castle Rock to manage George Stark’s mock burial is likewise derided, while sensationalist and tawdry People magazine, readers are told, has its year-round nest in New York. The Washington, D.C. characters fare no better; they include Dobie Eberhart, a loud, avaricious prostitute who caters to senior politicians, and Thad’s former literary agent, a low-rung corporate lawyer, blackmailer, and “creepazoid.” Even The Dark Half’s conclusion is foreboding. One of the sparrows draws Thad’s blood—a sign, he believes, that for having fooled with the afterlife he will soon have to pay a price.

The Dark Half thus continues King’s themes that humankind is trapped and confused in a chaotic universe and is further victimized by failures to conquer the evil ladled from its own cultural brew. To the extent that King wrote the book to entertain, he succeeded once again. Still, the crafting of this tale perhaps does not warrant the utter suspension of readers’ disbelief.