Study Guide

Misery

by Stephen King

Misery Summary

Summary (Masterpieces of American Fiction)

Misery tells the suspenseful and often gruesome story of novelist Paul Sheldon, held captive by a psychotic fan. It also offers insight into the public role of a writer and the experience of writing itself.

Misery establishes characters and conflict immediately, opening with Annie Wilkes’s artificial respiration to revive injured author Paul Sheldon. Within five very brief chapters, readers learn that Sheldon has crashed his car in a snowstorm; that Wilkes, a fan of Sheldon’s popular romance novels starring Misery Chastain, has rescued him; and that she is crazy and is imprisoning him in her isolated house rather than taking him to a hospital for proper care. Sheldon’s legs are shattered, and Wilkes treats the pain with Novril, a painkiller stolen from hospitals in which she had worked as a nurse. An addiction to Novril furthers Sheldon’s dependence on his admirer and captor.

The first proof of Annie’s power over Paul, and her insane willingness to use it, concerns Fast Cars, the novel Sheldon had just finished before the fateful drive from Boulder. Though Sheldon is known for, and wealthy from, his Misery books, he yearns for recognition of his more literary works and sees the new manuscript as his best work. Annie sees it as a travesty, full of low-life characters and obscenities, and she forces Sheldon to burn his only copy.

Moreover, Annie has been reading Misery’s Child—having waited for the paperback—and Sheldon fears her reaction: At the end, Misery dies in childbirth. Though Paul is delighted to have ended the series, Annie is outraged and insists that he write a new novel that brings Misery back. After one try that Annie rejects as...

(The entire section is 705 words.)

Misery Summary (Masterpieces of American Literature)

Misery is the darkest of Stephen King’s novels. Not only is it frightening, it is also depressing. Part of the explanation lies in the fact that, unlike most of King’s works, it contains nothing of the supernatural but is a story of psychological terror. The villain in Misery is all too human and all too believable. She is Annie Wilkes, a very hefty and very insane former nurse who had murdered scores of patients but always managed, cleverly, to escape being caught. Finally, though, she came under sufficient suspicion to be tried for killing several infants. The prosecution failed to get a conviction, but Annie found it prudent to retire to a farm in the remote mountains of Colorado.

Into her life comes Paul Sheldon, a writer of historical romances. In a blinding snowstorm, his car has careened off the road, and his legs are crushed in the ensuing crash. Wilkes finds him, pulls him out, and takes him home. She goes through his wallet, only to discover that she has rescued her favorite writer. She is Sheldon’s “number one fan” and has read all of his books. Unfortunately, Sheldon had tired of the main character of these romances, Misery Chastain, and, at the end of the latest one, Misery’s Child, he contrived her death. Wilkes is outraged at Misery’s death, and she now insists that Sheldon write a new book and bring Misery back. To be sure he does so, she keeps him locked in a back room, supplying him with a wheelchair, paper, a typewriter, and a painkilling drug to which he becomes addicted.

A frightening battle of wits ensues as Sheldon desperately seeks a way of escape while working on the new novel, Misery’s Return. Each time he tries to leave or to fool Wilkes in some way, he is foiled by her paranoiac cleverness. Each time, too, she punishes him horribly. At first, in the power of this immense, crazy woman, he is angered and tries to resist, but, as she terrorizes him, his will begins to break down. Finally, when she slices off one of his feet and a thumb, his spirit is nearly crushed.

In the meantime, under such immense pressure, Sheldon has been writing the greatest novel of his career. His missing car is finally discovered, and a state patrolman visits to question Wilkes. Sheldon throws an ashtray out the window and begins shouting, but Wilkes attacks and disables the trooper; she then runs over his head with her riding lawnmower. Despite carefully concealing the evidence, she realizes that the police will return and suspect her—after all, she has a history of scandal. She indicates to Sheldon that Misery’s...

(The entire section is 1066 words.)