Our Parents Being Human, and Stephen King’s IT

In this post, I will muse and ramble on the subject of regarding one’s parents as real people.  I will be drawing from Stephen King’s IT, but I will begin this post by quoting from Rachel Held Evans’ Evolving in Monkey Town.  Rachel talks about her struggle as an evangelical Christian with the issue of hell, particularly how God could condemn people in non-Christian cultures for not believing in Jesus.  Rachel discusses the issue with her father, a Christian professor, and he tells her that God’s ways are higher than our ways.  Rachel is not satisfied with that answer, and she wonders if the God of evangelical Christianity is just as bad as a Nazi prison guard.  Her father then gently says that she should be careful about what she says.  On page 100, Rachel states the following:

“I think you officially grow up the moment you realize you are capable of causing your parents pain.  All the rebellion of adolescence, all the slammed doors and temper tantrums and thoughtless words of youth—those are signs that you still think your parents are invincible, that you still imagine yourself as powerless against them.  As my father and I talked in his office that afternoon, I imagined how devastated I would be if I ever left the faith, and I realized for the first time that I could break his heart.  I realized for the first time that we were made out of the same stuff.  Fear and insecurity felt the same to him as they felt to me.  He had no special immunity against disappointment or guilt, no built-in armor to protect himself from the pain I might cause him.  For the first time in my life, I knew what it was like to relate to my father as a peer.  It was scary.”

This passage really hit home for me, for I myself tend to put my parents on a pedestal.  It’s not that I regard them as flawless, mind you, but I’d like to think that their approval of me is rock-solid.  Consequently, if I am cross or impatient with my Mom, I chalk that up to my weak human nature, but, if she is cross or impatient with me (which doesn’t happen that often), I feel devastated.  In short, I don’t give my parents the space to be human that I allow for myself.  It’s like I see them as God-like, but not totally God-like.

In a variety of ways, Stephen King’s IT touches on the issue of our parents being human, just as we are.  Here are some examples in what I have read in the book so far (and, just to be clear, much of the following has nothing to do with how I see my own parents!):

1.  After IT kills Bill Dengrough’s little brother, Georgie, his parents are not the same.  Laughter is gone from the house, and, when Bill’s father does smile, his smile is merely a shadow of his old grin.  Bill’s parents are silent and distant.  Bill understands his parents’ grief, for he shares it himself.  But my impression is that he longs for his parents to be stronger for him, or at least to be available to him as parents.  (Pages 242-243, 671)

2.  Henry Bowers is a bully, and he is abused by his crazy father, who intensely dislikes his African-American neighbors, the Hanlons.  Henry hates his father, and yet he also loves him and desires his approval.  In a disturbing and horrible scene, Henry lures the Hanlons’ dog with chips and treats, then he kills the dog by feeding him food laced with insect poison.  Henry then ties the dog to a tree and watches him die.  On page 666, we read: “And that afternoon, after he had told [his father], he felt he had finally found the key to his father’s affections, because his father had clapped him on the back (so hard that Henry almost fell over), taken him in a living room, and given him a beer.  It was the first beer Henry had ever had, and for all the rest of the years he would associate that taste with positive emotions: victory and love.”

3.  On pages 662-663, Richie is frustrated with his mother because she will not listen to him.  Richie’s glasses break after a bully (and friend of Henry Bowers) named Gard Jagermeyer pushes him into a gutter.  But Richie’s Mom reprimands Richie, saying, “Honestly, Richie, do you think there’s a glasses-tree somewhere and we can just pull off a new pair of spectacles for you whenever you break the old pair?”  She later says, “the next time you see your father come in looking whipped after working late three nights in a row, you think a little bit, Richie.”  Richie tries to explain to his Mom that it wasn’t his fault, that he was pushed into the gutter by a bully, but she will not listen.  We read, “This failure to make his mother understand hurt much worse than being slammed into the gutter by Gard Jagermeyer…”  The concern of Richie’s mother is certainly understandable, for glasses are expensive, and Richie’s father (as the breadwinner) would have had to work extra hours to replace them!  But Richie was hoping to find compassion and understanding from his mother.

And, while I’m talking about Richie’s mother, I wrote an exclamation point by something on page 366, which talks about what Richie’s mother was thinking about Richie and Bill:

I don’t understand either of them, she thought.  Where they go, what they do, what they want…or what will become of them.  Sometimes, oh sometimes their eyes are wild, and sometimes I’m afraid for them and sometimes I’m afraid of them.  She found herself thinking, not for the first time, that it would have been nice if she and Went could have had a girl as well, a pretty blond girl she could have dressed in skirts and matching bows and black patent-leather shoes on Sundays.  A pretty little girl who would ask to bake cupcakes after school and who would want dolls instead of books on ventriloquism and Revell models of cars that went fast.  A pretty little girl she could have understood.”

This took me aback because I expect parents to be unconditionally loving and approving of their children, and so it seems out-of-place to me when a parent—particularly a mother—is scared of her own son and deems him to be so inadequate that she wants a daughter.  But I’m probably speaking from my own sheltered experience.

4.  The Hanlons are the only African-American family in Derry, Maine, and Will Hanlon is Mike Hanlon’s Dad.  On pages 668-670, Will has a talk with his son about how he should be careful in a world in which many don’t like African-American people.  This scene reminded me of the Family Matters episode, “Fight the Good Fight” (see here—though the YouTube video no longer works), in which Laura is the victim of racism when she tries to start an African-American History class at her school.  Her parents, Carl and Harriett, are broken by the incident, and they realize that they cannot shelter their daughter from the realities of racism in the world, as much as they’d like to do so.  Many of us would like to think that our parents are God-like oracles, who are above the unfairness of the world, and who can protect us from it.  But, like a lot of human beings, they, too, are its victims, and sometimes all they can do is share their experience.

While I’m talking about Will Hanlon, on page 455, Will on his deathbed is telling his son Mike about an incident that occurred when he was a young man in the military: the burning of an African-American night-club by white racists (who were prominent in the Derry community).  Before he arrives at that part of the story, however, Will discusses his social life with his friends: “Oh, you could pick up a woman at any pig, you didn’t even have to work at it that hard—there was a lot of them wanted to find out if a slice off’n the rye loaf was any different—but to kids like me and Trevor Dawson and Carl Roone, my friends in those days, the thought of buying a whore—a white whore—that was something you had to sit down and consider.”

Mike then narrates about this: “As I’ve told you, he was heavily doped that night.  I don’t believe he would have said any of that stuff—not to his fifteen-year-old son—if he had not been.”

And, with that, I’ll close this post about parents being human!

About jamesbradfordpate

My name is James Pate. This blog is about my journey. I read books. I watch movies and TV shows. I go to church. I try to find meaning. And, when I can’t do that, I just talk about stuff that I find interesting. I have degrees in fields of religious studies. I have an M.Phil. in the History of Biblical Interpretation from Hebrew Union College in Cincinnati, Ohio. I also have an M.A. in Hebrew Bible from Jewish Theological Seminary, an M.Div. from Harvard Divinity School, and a B.A. from DePauw University.
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2 Responses to Our Parents Being Human, and Stephen King’s IT

  1. Melinda says:

    James, your blog is wonderful…this is the second time I’ve seen anyone offer such an in-depth analysis of IT.
    In this particular post, you are spot on. Sometimes it can be a bit unsettling to see our parents with a dark side, a side that makes us realize that they are flawed and not always the heroes we thought they were. I had to see this many times growing up in my own personal life and while I love my mother and my biological father, I also feel a sense of disappointment in them. But enough about me…I love the way you broke this down!

    IT is a very deep story, although it has always scared the crap out of me. I would also like to add some thoughts of my own, if you don’t mind.

    What you said about both Henry and Mike is especially profound. I love the way King deals with racism in IT, from Mike’s perspective. It is remarkable that a white man who grew up in an all-white community in Maine could have such insight into how racism affects people of color and how important it is to prepare children for what they will deal with. I am a woman of mixed race, so I’m impressed by his understanding of such a painful issue. My mother did not prepare me for it and it was very difficult when people called me the “N” word as a child or made fun of my looks because I was considered different.

    Henry Bowers is a terrible character but King also shows how evil isn’t just born…it is created by people like Henry’s father Oscar. On the one hand, some people are horribly abused and mistreated but they still manage to be kind, caring people.
    But with Henry I believe it warped him beyond any hope…sort of like certain serial killers. There is no excuse for their actions but at the same time, some people do what they know. Henry comes from an environment that is void of love, empathy, kindness and compassion. He has no positive influence in his young life. All he sees and knows is pure hate. There was a poem by Dorothy Nolte about how children often live what they learn. So while Henry is sadistic and racist and cruel, we can also see him as an example of how child abuse can create a vicious cycle for future generations. And surely his own father Oscar was also a product of abuse, so he passed it down to Henry.

    Another character with a troubled home life is Beverly Marsh. In the book and the film, Bev’s mother spends very little time with her. So Beverly is either at home with her father or at school or playing with the Losers Club. In the book, it is implied that Beverly’s mother is concerned about the father sexually abusing her, but Beverly denies it.
    We don’t actually find out if this is true but there are two parts of the book that allude to Beverly’s father being somewhat inappropriate with his daughter…once when he sees the love letter from Ben Hanscom and calls her a “slut child”, then insists on checking to see if she is still a virgin. Then another time is when she returns to her childhood home and IT appears first as a kind old woman, then as her father, and starts making lewd comments about wanting oral sex with her.

    I’ve always wondered if maybe King wanted us to read between the lines and make of that what we will. Personally, I think this is another way of showing both neglect (Bev’s mother is an emotionally distant workaholic) and incest/emotional abuse (Bev’s father can sometimes be kind to her, but she is often afraid of him as she enters puberty and is noticed by boys for her beauty). It goes beyond a father simply being protective to something more disturbing. There seems to be an inherent desire for his daughter and King really explores this taboo theme in a lot of his work. Remember, there is also a part in IT (the book, not the film) where Bev has sex with all of the boys although the kids are underage.
    Many readers find it unsettling but I think that is part of King’s genius…he dares to push the limits. If you’ve ever read the story of Aileen Wuornos, America’s most well-known female serial killer, she was a victim of rape and incest. She started having sex with neighborhood boys in exchange for cigarettes at the age of 11. So it isn’t hard to imagine Beverly, a girl from a broken home, using sex to deepen a bond and maybe even to get back at her father for calling her a “slut”. And I don’t think King intended to make the sex scene dirty or erotic but more symbolic of the love the kids shared. More like no matter what happened or what IT threw their way, this was an experience that drew them even closer together.

    All of the kids aren’t simply outsiders in their community…their parents aren’t the most nurturing parents either. So they have to form their own little “family” and support one another. In a way, even Henry Bowers does this with his gang of bullies.


  2. jamesbradfordpate says:

    Thank you for your thoughtful comment, Melinda.


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