What are the literary devices used in Misery?

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gpane | College Teacher | (Level 3) Senior Educator

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Perhaps the most notable device that King uses in this novel is that of metafiction. Metafiction refers to fiction that in some way reflects upon the art and process of writing itself. Misery concerns a writer embarked (albeit under the most frightening compulsion) on his latest novel. Sections of this novel-within-a-novel actually appear as chapters in the book. This metafictional technique also allows many reflections upon the creative process, the nature of inspiration, and different kinds of writing (Paul, like many writers, makes a distinction between his popular novels and serious, 'good' novels), and the whole relationship of art to life. The title of the book is also the name of the heroine in this novel that Paul writes for the dubious benefit of his crazed number-one fan, Annie Wilkes, and the same word pretty much sums up Paul’s existence after he falls into her clutches.

Another literary device of note in this novel is the narrative point of view that is employed. We get a continuous insight into Paul’s mind and events and other characters – principally Annie – are filtered through him. Thus, while Paul does not directly tell his own story, we get it from his perspective; this is an example of what is known as limited third-person narration.  This method of narration is very effective in gradually revealing Annie’s true horrifying nature; at first, like Paul, we are misled into thinking that she is nice enough, if rather odd. It also allows us as readers to empathise with Paul’s agony and terror at being held captive, and his frantic struggles to escape. At times, indeed, the narrative slips into stream-of-consciousness mode, literally following the ebb and flow of Paul’s thoughts and emotions. This happens, for example, just after Annie has amputated his thumb in one of the many punishments she metes out to him. The narrative style captures the sense of his numbed horror and confusion in one long, meandering, unpunctuated sentence:

She had cut his thumb off in the morning and that night she swept gaily into the room where he sat in a stupid daze of drugs and pain with his wrapped left hand held against his chest and she had a cake and she was bellowing 'Happy Birthday to You' in her on-key but tuneless voice although it was not his birthday and there were candles all over the cake and sitting in the exact center pushed into the frosting like an extra big candle had been his thumb his gray dead thumb the nail slightly ragged because he sometimes chewed it when he was stuck for a word and she told him If you Promise to be good Paul you can have a piece of birthday cake ….

Another literary device used in this book is symbolism, most notably in relation to Annie. Paul comes to think of her as some kind of goddess – not a beguiling one but a cruel, capricious, primal deity, with the power to bestow life or death at will. She certainly appears indestructible for a time; even when badly injured in her final fight with Paul she takes a while to die, which scares Paul into thinking that maybe, like a goddess, she is immortal.

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