Annie Wilkes is one of King’s most interesting creations, unique yet archetypal. She is described as “overweight,” but “big” rather than fat, maternal yet androgynous; she is able to kill a police officer with a riding lawnmower, yet is strangely prissy, especially about language (“cockadoodie” and “dirty birdie” are typical Annie-isms). She imagines herself a nurturing caregiver, but apart from her mental instability, she is too selfish to truly care about anyone, even the godlike creator of her beloved Misery. Paul more correctly envisions her as a primordial goddess, life-giving but elemental and cruel.
King reveals Wilkes’s character through her own words and actions, through Sheldon’s empathic understanding of her character (a writer’s intuition heightened by his perilous dependence on her irrational reactions and volatile moods), and through Sheldon’s reading of her scrapbook. Like Harold Lauder in The Stand (1978; new edition, 1990), Jack Torrance in The Shining (1977), and other of King’s human villains, Annie is terrifying and reprehensible, yet understandable and in her own way pitiful.
Weakened by injuries and by addiction to painkillers, Paul Sheldon is credibly human; he also has been divorced twice and used to smoke too much (Annie allows him no cigarettes). Still, like Andy Dufresne in King’s “Rita Hayworth and Shawshank Redemption” (from Different Seasons, 1982), he is a hero, combining strong will and patience. Sheldon also attains self-control and control over his captor through the one thing he does well, which is writing.
At first, Paul is literally helpless as a baby, his life preserved by Annie’s nursing knowledge and great physical strength. Trapped in Annie’s house, he compares himself to a bird from Africa he saw in a zoo when he was young, tragically far from home, never to be freed. However, the balance of power between Sheldon and Wilkes shifts, in part as Paul gains physical strength (he lifts the heavy typewriter for secret exercise), but primarily because of his writer’s ability to spin a story that captivates his captor.
King’s quick and deft characterization of the most minor figures shows in the three police officers, the friends and family of whom Sheldon thinks, and the people whose histories are revealed in Annie’s scrapbook. However, the focus of the book is one small spotlight completely shared by Paul and Annie.