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What is the theme of family in The Shining by Stephen King?

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First, you need to narrow your topic down to a specific aspect of family in The Shining. Here are a few suggestions:

  • Familial abuse
  • Cycles of domestic abuse (consider Jack's childhood and how it might affect his relationship with his son)
  • Wendy as wife and mother or Jack as husband and father
  • How the book treats family versus how the 1980 Kubrick movie does (considering the differences between the book and movie, you could get a lot of mileage out of this one)

Second, you need to seek out articles or books which either approach The Shining from your chosen viewpoint or relate to it indirectly. For example, if you write about domestic abuse in the novel, you could research what domestic abuse is typically like in reality then compare it to what King has in the novel. If you compare the book and the movie, you could use movie reviews and studies on the topic (of which there are too many to count).

Once you've done your research, you need to formulate an argumentative thesis statement, which will go at the end of your opening paragraph. Each body paragraph will provide different points of your argument, backed up by both evidence from King's novel and from the scholarly sources you selected.

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Your first step in approaching this assignment should be to think about a particular stance and theoretical approach. 

Your introductory section should set out how you will approach the work. You could focus on a feminist reading in which you looked at the role of Wendy, especially how she seems a figure who almost exists to react to the dynamic between Jack and Danny rather than a strong figure in her own right. A second possibility would be to focus on issues of patriarchy, and specifically how Jack is affected and harmed by his own ideals of masculinity. A third possibility is to examine the child-with-special-powers trope, one that is quite successful in popular fiction. A fourth possibility would be do a reception study, looking at how the family is portrayed in the book vs. the film or how the sequel, Doctor Sleep, makes us rethink the family dynamics of the original novel. 

The second section might look at the period and setting and King's own statements about the genesis of the novel and his own struggles with alcoholism. It would be useful to indicate the ways in which the family was changing in the 1970s, in which the male single-earner household was more common than it is today.

For your main body paragraphs, you want to organize your sections analytically rather than simply following the narrative flow of the novel. For example, if you are focusing on Wendy's role, you might write one section on how the narrator describes her, another on what she says in dialogue, another on her interactions with Jack, and another on her interactions with Danny. Whichever theme you choose, you should break it down into sections, and look at the theme in terms of different literary elements of the book (i.e. how the writer expresses the theme) rather than simply focusing on the story. 

For citations, you can find scholarly works about this novel by searching the MLA International Bibliography, which should be accessible from your university library's website. If you do not have access to that, Google Scholar is another solid resource. 

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