Last Updated on May 6, 2015, by eNotes Editorial. Word Count: 519
An extended monologue told in a rural Maine dialect, Dolores Claiborne is a departure for King stylistically, though thematically it travels familiar ground: the secrets hidden by communities, the bonds formed by extreme circumstances, and the unexpected faces that evil assumes. Dolores had worked for the recently deceased Vera Donovan since 1949 and had a long, tempestuous relationship with her employer. Speaking to the police, Dolores explains the difficulties of working for Vera as they grew older: Though confined to a wheelchair and often senile, Vera on her “good days” had a vicious streak resulting in battles over her bowel movements. However, Dolores did not murder Vera in the present day of 1992; explaining why, she confesses to murdering her husband, Joe, during a 1963 eclipse, something that the denizens of Little Tall had believed for three decades.
Joe was a physically abusive drunk, stopping only when Dolores threatened him with an ax. He began making sexual advances to their teenage daughter Selena, which Dolores discovered and halted; however, her plan to leave Little Tall with her three children became impossible when she discovered that their college fund savings had been stolen by Joe. She broke down one day at the Donovan home, which had suffered its own tragedies: Vera’s husband died in a car accident, and her two children stopped coming to Little Tall, leaving Vera alone in the house. Vera provided resolve and later some advice: “Sometimes being a bitch is all a woman has to hold on to.” Dolores planned to murder Joe, having him fall into an empty well during the eclipse, thus ensuring that no one would witness the event. Joe fell, lived, and almost climbed out, only to have Dolores knock him out permanently with a stone. Though she was never charged, the town believed her to be guilty.
Dolores continued to work for Vera, moving in when Vera required a full-time caretaker. As time passed, Dolores became aware of Vera’s terrors in her dementia, a fear of wires and dust bunnies mirroring Dolores’s own continued fears about Joe. When Vera suffered an attack by dust bunnies during a lucid day, however, she bolted out of her wheelchair and fell down the stairs. Asked by Vera to be put out of her misery, Dolores agreed, but Vera died naturally before Dolores could do so. Dolores was discovered by the postman, however, in this compromising position.
Soon after, Dolores received a call from Vera’s lawyer and was told that the Donovan children were not estranged all these years but instead died in a car accident soon after their father. Dolores inherited most of Vera’s estate, thirty million dollars, which placed her in a panic as it provided a motive for murder. After thinking over her situation and the life that she lived, she came to police headquarters to give her account.
In a postscript of news clippings, readers discover that Dolores was cleared of Vera’s murder and anonymously donated the money willed to her. The emotional estrangement between Dolores and Selena may be mending, as Selena will visit Dolores for Christmas.