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How does Stephen King exemplify postmodernism?

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This is a good question. It is probably best to start off with an understanding of postmodernism, so that we are on the same page. Postmodernism can be described as an intellectual movement that acknowledges the lack of a dominant narrative. Hence, there is an understanding that all knowledge is relative and based on a person's historical context and experience. 

When we approach...

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joshbauer | Student


Before we answer this question, let's first ask another: what is postmodernism?

Put simply, postmodernism is a late-20th-century philosophical and cultural movement in which art, architecture, and literature challenge anything as being universally true, real, or ethical. This quote from RMIT University Associate Dean Daniel Palmer summarizes it well:

"Postmodernism is best understood as a questioning of the ideas and values associated with a form of modernism that believes in progress and innovation. Modernism insists on a clear divide between art and popular culture."

This definition of postmodernism is especially relevant to the works of Stephen King. Throughout his work, King twists classical American ideals and tropes into horrifying nightmares for his readers. Nothing is sacred in his texts. The once-entertaining image of a circus clown becomes a symbol for unstoppable, vicious evil in IT. In 'Salem's Lot, the spiritually-stale Father Callahan attempts to purge the titular town of a vampire menace, only to have his cross snapped in two, his body made unclean -- he runs away before he can complete the spiritual redemption arc we expect from him. Carrie features an ugly-duckling narrative gone horribly wrong thanks to the manipulations of teenage bullies and parental dogmatic hatred.

King's use of theme is also postmodern in many ways. He criticizes American Christianity's controlling tendencies in books like Carrie, Revival, and short stories like The Mist. The ideal 'man's best friend' is transformed into a vessel for evil in Cujo, while his Dark Tower series navigates a horrifying fantasy world far from the quintessential magic realms of J.R.R. Tolkien and C.S. Lewis. One of King's most prevalent themes is that of the idyllic American small town. Whether it's in 'Salem's Lot or Needful Things' Castle Rock, King likes to write about ensembles of characters dealing with evil which has always lurked beneath their perfect world's surface. This motif, challenging the pleasant ideals of Leave it to Beaver-style domestic living, is perhaps most famously depicted in IT. Check out this passage:

"... I've begun to think, you see, that It has been here so long... whatever It really is... that It's become a part of Derry, something as much a part of the town as the Standpipe, or the Canal, or Bassey Park, or the library. Only It's not a matter of outward geography, you understand. Maybe that was true once, but now It's... inside. Somehow It's gotten inside. That's the only way I know to understand all of the terrible things that have happened here -- the nominally explicable as well as the utterly inexplicable."

In addition, King references popular products and media constantly in his writing, drawing the reader in with them while also subtly criticizing their importance in daily life and culture.

Stephen King exemplifies postmodernism through the way he deconstructs our trust in everyday society, the products we use, the religions we follow, and the innocence we think we still possess. His work resonates with so many people because it strikes under the surface -- the gore and blood doesn't terrify us so much as the notion that we are never truly safe, that there is no real safety from horror. Virtually every true thing at the beginning of a King story is proven false by the end.