How does Stephen King reveal the major themes throughout "The Body?"

Expert Answers

An illustration of the letter 'A' in a speech bubbles

Stephen King’s The Body is often referred to as a bildungsroman, a literary genre pertaining to an adolescent’s coming of age—literally translated from German to mean an “education novel.” The focus of a bildungsroman is how the protagonist develops morally and psychologically, finding their place in society, and how...

Unlock
This Answer Now

Start your 48-hour free trial to unlock this answer and thousands more. Enjoy eNotes ad-free and cancel anytime.

Start your 48-Hour Free Trial

Stephen King’s The Body is often referred to as a bildungsroman, a literary genre pertaining to an adolescent’s coming of age—literally translated from German to mean an “education novel.” The focus of a bildungsroman is how the protagonist develops morally and psychologically, finding their place in society, and how they enmesh their personal values and beliefs into the backdrop of society. The story of The Body certainly fits that model, as Gordie and his friends start out on adventure for the purpose of notoriety:

And you know what? I bet we get our pictures in the paper. We’ll be famous.

When you look at these motivations from the psychoanalytic lens, particularly through the Erikson’s stages of development, youths from ages twelve to eighteen are most concerned with their role in society and how they fit. They must reconcile who they are with their social ties, and fame is one avenue young people often explore when trying to determine who they are and whom they ought to be.

Thinking about the goals of Gordie and his friends helps to reveal the use of metaphor in this story. The title emphasizes the focus on the body—think about what that body represents for Gordie and his friends. The body itself is a symbol, and attached to that are the various metaphors used throughout the story. The boys undertake an adventure where they will learn a great deal about themselves and change by the story’s end. Look for how the body stands in a symbol for their goals, and how King—through the narrator (Gordie)—equates the two being related.

Approved by eNotes Editorial Team
An illustration of the letter 'A' in a speech bubbles

Throughout "The Body," Stephen King uses the dead body of Ray Brower as an extended metaphor for the boys attempting to end their childhoods, as all boys do at some point in their adolescence. In this quest to see a literal dead body, the boys experience much of the pain that accompanies growing up.

In fact, this story really ties into Thomas Foster's explanation that a quest is really a journey of self-discovery. Foster breaks up a quest into five parts: a quester, a place to go, a stated reason to go there, challenges and trials en route, and a real reason to go there. Here is how this looks for "The Body:"

  1. The quester: Gordie
  2. Place to go: The body in the woods
  3. Stated reason to go: Become heroes by discovering a dead body
  4. Challenges: The older boys, including Ace's gang
  5. Real Reason: Become men

King alternatively titles this story from Different Seasons as "Fall From Innocence." This reveals his intention for Brower's body to represent the end of childhood. King contrasts the beginning of the story in which the boys are secretly smoking cigarettes, looking at "girly books," and gambling in their clubhouse to the end when Gordie details how each member of the group, besides he and Chris, drifted apart soon after discovering the body. This ending also highlights how the innocent characteristics seen throughout the quest eventually lead to the deaths of Chris, Vern, and Teddy.  

To Gordie, the story's narrator and protagonist, this quest is a seminal moment in his life, as he explains in both the first and last chapters. While this event might not have been as important to the others, to Gordie, this event still gives him nightmares and headaches in his adulthood.

Approved by eNotes Editorial Team
An illustration of the letter 'A' in a speech bubbles

Stephen King's story "The Body" expands on many different themes, including storytelling and relationships, specifically family relationships in contrast with friendships.

Storytelling is a simple yet strong theme in this story. The frame story of the novel is the adult narrator recollecting his past, particularly this one story from his childhood. Within this frame narrative, Gordon tells stories to his friends. Some of these apparently make it to publication eventually, as the adult Gordon attributes them to the literary magazines or other places where they were published. King shows storytelling as a coping mechanism as well as an entertaining talent, in both childhood and adulthood.

Relationships are a strong focus in this story as well. The boys obviously share a strong bond and are very close, but the narrator reveals that this may be for reasons other than simply sharing the same gender, location, and age. Gordon discusses their backgrounds, each of them coming from a home that is broken in some way. The boys seem to seek each other's company partially for escape and solidarity. Their friendship is a safe place; despite the horrible things that they witness and experience within this story, they cling together and stand by their friends until much later, when they eventually drift apart in high school.

Approved by eNotes Editorial Team
An illustration of the letter 'A' in a speech bubbles

I think that the fundamental themes of "The Body" is brought out by the journey that the boys take.  The themes of innocence vs. experience, the acknowledgement of voice, as well as the notion of friendship are all revealed by the journey that the boys take.  The quest to find the body of Ray Bower are what sets in motion the development of characterization and conflict that enables the major themes to be revealed.  Through the journey to find the body, King is able to bring out the idea of friendship between the boys, and what it means at that moment as well as what it comes to mean later on.  Additionally, it is through the quest or journey that the reader is able to understand the boys and their identities.  It is through this voyage as well as the experiences that arise from it which enable the themes to be able to take hold.  King does not force the themes into the plot.  He understands that the heroic quest that someone like Gordy goes through will be one in which detailing it will be one in which the thematic development will become evident.  In this, King is able to reveal and enhance the themes that emerge as a result of the journey the boys undertake.

Approved by eNotes Editorial Team