The Characters

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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.


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Paul Sheldon, the character through which King filters the experiences of the novel, is an idealist-turned-survivor. He is a popular writer from New York who visits rural Colorado to finish the book that he really wants to write. Abandoning the romance genre, he hopes that the serious, artfully crafted Fast Cars will receive critical acclaim from literary reviewers. After Annie rescues him from a car accident, heals him, and proceeds to keep him captive, his previous opinions about the business of writing change. He discovers that writers write no matter what the reviewers say: the need to write is a writer's own obsession. The skills needed to write well, such as a creative imagination (which embarrassed Paul's mother), a sense of humor (which he keeps well-hidden from Annie), and a sense of what is organically realistic or possible (characterized by another question, "Did he?") will help him survive his "number one fan."

While Paul is the main character, he is dominated and upstaged by the most fascinating, poisonous woman Stephen King has created: Annie Wilks. Initially, the reader's perception of Annie, filtered through the fact of Paul's kidnapping and his understanding of psychosis, is dread tinged with pity. Annie is described as a large, strong woman, prone to moments of blank catalepsy...

(This entire section contains 325 words.)

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and depression, but as solid and impassive as a stone African idol. Her distinctive euphemisms, "cocka-doodie," "dirty-birdy," and others, initially reflect her need to be correct, polite, and dutiful. As Annie's twisted love grows into torture and maiming, the reader's horror grows. In Paul's mind, Annie becomes as primal and powerful as an African goddess, her euphemisms powerful curses that terrify him.

When undeveloped, secondary characters are introduced toward the end of the story, they are seen only as potential victims of Annie's murderous power. When a pair of police officers—one short, one tall—finally save Paul, he calls them David and Goliath. Both of them save him from the goddess's vengeance.