StephenKing.com Synopsis: A disturbed high-school student with authority problems kills one of his teachers and takes the rest of his class hostage. Over the course of one long, tense and unbearable hot afternoon, Charlie Decker explains what led him to this drastic sequence of events, while at the same time deconstructing the personalities of his classmates, forcing each one to justify his or her existence.
I have to be honest. When I saw Rage was next on the list, my spirits sank a bit. In this current climate, the last thing I wanted to read was a book about a school shooting. I’d heard it was an alright novel (especially for the first non-horror foray of a relatively young author), but three decades of school violence have passed since the publishing of the book, and that’s made for a lot of water under the proverbial bridge. Stephen King (er, I mean Richard Bachman) himself has barred publishers from reprinting Rage because over time he’s become upset by the book’s content, and the disturbing number of copycat events that occurred through the 1980’s and 1990’s. Today, the only way to even read the novel is getting your hands on an old copy of The Bachman Books (which is what I did), or finding one of the relatively rare standalone copies. In a world where Stephen King books are as ubiquitous as water, Rage is the rare exception to the rule.
And there’s good reason for that. It’s a deeply, deeply troubling book.
Ex-Student Holds 70 Hostage in Classroom : He Fires Two Shots, Then Is Disarmed by Captives After Half an Hour
By JOHN KENDALL and PAUL FELDMAN, LA Times Staff Writers, Originally published in the LA Times, April 27, 1988
A young man armed with an assault rifle invaded a San Gabriel High School classroom Tuesday, firing two shots and holding about 70 former classmates hostage for more than half an hour before he was overwhelmed by students, police said. No one was hurt.
Alhambra Police Lt. Richard Duffy identified the gunman as Jeff Lyne Cox, 18, a San Gabriel student who apparently had not attended the school for some time. He was booked on suspicion of assault with a deadly weapon and false imprisonment.
"He's a joking-type person and we didn't know if he was serious or not at first," said class member Jason Burke, 17. But, Burke said, he quickly made up his mind after Cox fired a shot into the classroom wall. "Then I was scared like everyone else."
School Principal Jack B. Mount said Cox apparently carried the weapon onto the campus in a long box.
"We were in the middle of class, and he walks in and says, 'We have a problem here,' said Scott French, a senior who said he is a friend of Cox. "We thought he was kidding, because he kids around a lot."
Cox then ordered the teacher, Julie Rivera, out of the room and fired a shot when several students attempted to escape. The bullet struck a wall near the door, witnesses said.
"He said he got the idea from the hijacking of the Kuwaiti airliner and from Stephen King's book 'Rage,' " French said.
On March 8, 1782, a group of Pennsylvania militiamen slaughtered nearly 100 unarmed members of the Lenape tribe at the Moravian mission settlement of Gnadenhutten, Ohio. Although the militiamen claimed they were seeking revenge for Indian raids on their frontier settlements, the Lenape they murdered had played no role in any attack.
Later dubbed the Gnadenhutten Massacre, the militiamen rounded up the entire village on March 7 and placed them in two buildings, one for men and one for women and children. The next morning, the militia brought the Lenape to one of two "killing houses", one for men and the other for women and children. The militia tied the Lenape, stunned them with mallet blows to the head, and killed them with fatal scalping cuts. In all, the militia murdered and scalped 28 men, 29 women, and 39 children. They piled the bodies in the mission buildings and burned the village down. They also burned the other abandoned Moravian villages.
Two young boys, one of whom had been scalped, survived to tell of the massacre.
Rage is a deceptively straightforward book. It documents a single morning in the life of Charlie Decker, a troubled high school senior who kills two of his teachers in a fit of rebellion, and then holds his classroom hostage. Started in 1966, while King was still in college, and finished around the same time he was hammering out Carrie and ‘Salem’s Lot, Rage is at once surprisingly mature for a glorified MFA thesis, and a disturbing canary in the proverbial coal mine of America as it entered the last quarter of the 20th century. It starts with a set-up that has become unsettlingly common, offers a plausible justification for the violence in the middle, and then ends with a devastating third act that implicates nearly all of American culture. Rage isn’t just a book about school yard violence; it is about where that violence comes from, and how it has metastasized in a culture that roots for the rootless, and venerates the debased.
That King put forward such a convincing and compelling character at the heart of this violent melodrama goes a long way toward explaining the rash of copycat murders that swirled around the book in the first two decades after it was published. Ironically, King’s very effectiveness as a writer may have led to a smattering of troubled young men gleaning the wrong lessons from the book. King has always been adept at opening secret doors in the American consciousness and letting the darkness out, but perhaps this is one door that would have been better left closed.
Kentucky Student Seizes 11 Classmates As Hostages
AP, Originally published in the The Washington Post, September 19, 1989
MCKEE, KY., SEPT. 18 -- An armed teen-ager stalked into a high school classroom, fired a shot at the ceiling and took 11 classmates hostage today, police and witnesses said. After a day-long standoff, he released them all and surrendered. Several shots were fired, but no one was injured in the confrontation, which began about 9:50 a.m. EDT, police said.
The youth, whose only request to police was to speak to his father, told his hostages he did not want to hurt anyone. The final two hostages were freed shortly after 5 p.m., and the teen-ager gave up about an hour and a half later, authorities said.
State Police detective Bob Stephens, who negotiated all day with Pierce, said he feared Pierce would try to kill himself since he seemed to be carrying out the scenario of the Stephen King thriller "Rage." During a search of Pierce's room at home, police found a paperback copy of the book, in which the lead character is shot by police. The book's plot deals with a youth who holds a classroom of students hostage.
The part that I (and I assume most modern audiences) dreaded reading the most is actually over in a flash, about a quarter of the way into the book. Decker, who’s on thin ice after violently attacking a teacher months before, goes ape on the school principal on his first day back from suspension, gets expelled for good, goes to his locker and grabs the gun stored there, lights his locker on fire, and then goes to the class he was supposed to be attending anyway. The next moment he’s standing at the head of the class with two dead teachers, an evacuated school due to the locker fire and ensuing alarm, and a room full of accidental hostages. The Band-Aid gets pulled off very quickly in this book, and in an uncharacteristic feat of restraint, King barely mentions the dead English teacher at the foot of the desk throughout the remainder of the book. This makes sense, since Decker almost immediately regrets what he’s done and seems as eager to forget about the body at his feet as the reader.
While it may not have played that way to audiences in 1977, the fear of school violence is in some respects a feint that draws attention from the real horrors of the story. Modern audiences are primed for the school shooting, but ultimately it is the ensuing events in the classroom among the hostages where we find the true monster in Rage. King spends very little time dwelling on the actual school shooting; it’s a thing that happened and everyone must contend with it. And it’s that contending that occupies the bulk of the book. For the terrified parents outside of the school, they are in the dark, without information, understanding, or comfort. For Decker, he’s as trapped as the people he holds at gunpoint. And for the hostages, the death of their teacher--and of the normal order--represents an unexpected moment of opportunity. Some react with fear. Some with anger. And some are almost joyful. Decker, it seems, has accidentally released something he doesn’t understand any more than the huddled adults outside.
Stephen King released Rage under the pseudonym Richard Bachman for essentially unknown reasons, or rather for such a jangled mess of reasons that it’s practically impossible to sort out the percentages. He at once was pressured by his publisher to pump the brakes a little after the success of Carrie and ‘Salem’s Lot, and publishing under the Bachman name seemed to be a nice compromise. But in the essay “Why I Was Bachman” published at the top of the collection The Bachman Books, King writes also that he was curious to know whether Stephen King had just gotten lucky or if it was his talent that had propelled him to success. He suggests there was never any satisfactory answer to that question, but he ends with an interesting comment: “The fact that Thinner did 28,000 copies when Bachman was the author and 280,000 when Steve King became the author might tell you something, huh?”
He offers yet a third explanation, though: that he was simply fucking around with a new character and got a little carried away. This is the explanation I find most fascinating. When he published Rage, he already had The Long Walk completed, and when the publisher suggested a follow-up for Bachman, it seemed like the obvious choice. But by the time he starting working on Roadwork, The Running Man, and Thinner King knew he was writing as Bachman. He dismisses the idea that he wrote as Bachman to break out of horror, but it certainly must have been freeing to write new stories knowing he was fooling his audience. It must have seemed like an incredible lark at the time, to pretend to be someone else. To play fast and loose with a career that was so stratospheric. It must have felt liberating to break the rules and hold his audience hostage, even if they weren’t aware of the game he was playing.
In May of 1967 The Beatles released Sergeant Pepper’s Lonely Hearts Club Band. Free of the bonds of live musicianship, the album was a drastic leap forward for the band. Arguably one of the first “concept” albums, the supposed concept is buried fairly deep down, since the band ditched the idea almost immediately after recording the first few tracks. According to the well-worn myth, Paul McCartney thought it would be a lark to record an album as a fictional band, which would free them up to experiment, and road manager Mal Evans named the band after the multi-word band names that were so popular in the late 1960’s. They may not have stuck with the pseudonym, but the album did herald a new version of The Beatles, a version that grew increasingly reclusive as the decade progressed.
Herman Webster Mudgett arrived in Chicago, Illinois in August of 1886, one of thousands of people flooding into the city in advance of the World’s Columbian Exposition that would be held in the city in 1892. For the last 2-3 years he’d run a series of cons, and to avoid being recognized by past victims, he changed his name to Henry Howard Holmes, or H.H. Holmes for short. He started work at Elizabeth S. Holton's drugstore at the southwest corner of South Wallace Avenue and West 63rd Street in Englewood, and proved himself to be a charming, helpful, and hardworking employee. Eventually, he even bought the store.
As the Exposition edged closer, Holmes purchased an empty lot across from the drugstore, and started building a two-story mixed-use building, with apartments on the second floor and retail spaces, including a new drugstore, on the first. Eventually he added a third floor, claiming it would be a hotel for the Exposition, but from all accounts the hotel was never in operation.
In 1893 the World’s Columbian Exposition opened to tremendous fanfare, and between May and October or that year, over 27 million people from around the world flocked to the city of Chicago to take in the myriad sights. With so many strangers milling about, it was an easy place for a few people to go missing.
All told, Herman Mudgett, under the pseudonym H.H. Holmes was responsible for at least 8 murders, though he claimed as many as 28. Using trap doors and secret chambers he’d built into his “hotel,” Holmes would lure newcomers to the city, drug them with chloroform, strangle and dismember them, and ultimately burn the bodies in a specially-designed oven.
Holmes was captured and hanged three years later. Through the years, he’d used at least 6 aliases for his murder and fraud schemes.
The Tragedy in Room 108
By JERRY BUCKLEY, Originally published in
Scott Pennington had never met Charlie Decker. He couldn't have. Decker was a character in a Stephen King novel. But there were times when Pennington must have felt as if he knew Decker. Maybe even a time, like last January 18, when he felt he was just like Decker.
For most of America's students, that Monday was a holiday—in honor of Martin Luther King Jr.'s birthday. But in Carter County, Ky., school was in session. At 2:40 p.m., the beginning of seventh period, Deanna McDavid opened the door of Room 108 at East Carter High School in Grayson. Her senior English students were waiting for her, all except Pennington. She told the 22 students to read their assigned novels for 10 minutes, then she began correcting papers.
Five minutes later, in walked Pennington, a shy, 17-year-old honors student with thick glasses and long brown hair. He had moved to the county five months earlier. As he walked, Pennington pulled a revolver from inside his denim jacket and fired one shot at McDavid, missing her. "What are you doing, Scott?" she screamed. "Shut up, bitch," Pennington snapped. As McDavid moved her arms toward her head and dropped to her knees, Pennington squeezed the trigger a second time, sending a .38-caliber bullet into her right temple. She fell back, curled in a fetal position, still holding a pen. She was dead, one day shy of her 49th birthday.
In “Why I Was Bachman” King tells an anecdote about an interview he remembered with Paul McCartney explaining that The Beatles had once considered going on tour in costume. The idea was that they would just set up small gigs and go on stage in capes and masks and no one would recognize them. According to King, the interviewer asked Paul if fans wouldn’t have just recognized The Beatles by their voices.
He tells this anecdote because from the moment Rage was released King received fan mail asking if he was Richard Bachman. Apparently a mask wasn’t enough cover; People recognized his voice.
Bachman may have started for myriad reasons, but he continued through five novels and almost a decade because King had created a character, a mask, that he could hide behind and become someone else. It was a game that he was playing, and only he seemed to know the rules. Yet, like Charlie Decker in Rage, the game got out of control, and in February of 1985 King was officially outed as Bachman, when a suspicious book store clerk checked the Library of Congress and saw King’s name on the copyright for Thinner.
You see, once the game has started and others join, anything can happen. The host no longer has control.
School Killings All Too Familiar Moses Lake Horror Parallels Plot Of Novel Found In Suspect’s Room
By BONNIE HARRIS, Originally published in The Spokesman-Review, April 10, 1996
Barry Loukaitis may have been acting out the plot of a Stephen King novel when, police say, he shot up a Moses Lake classroom last February, killing three people and wounding another.
A dog-eared copy of King’s book “Rage” was found on Loukaitis’ night stand during a search of the 15-year-old’s home shortly after the Feb. 2 shootings, authorities said. Twenty-seven other Stephen King books lined the shelves in Loukaitis’ bedroom. None was as worn as his copy of “Rage,” which King started writing as a high school senior and later published under the pen name Richard Bachman.
The book is about a teenager who holds his algebra class hostage using a .22-caliber revolver. The protagonist, Charlie Decker, kills his teacher and another instructor who steps into the room and for several hours toys with the idea of also shooting the most popular boy in the school.
During Loukaitis’ rampage, the Frontier Junior High School student carried a .22-caliber revolver and a hunting rifle, which police say he used to kill algebra teacher Leona Caires and students Manuel Vela, 14, and Arnold Fritz, 15. Vela was popular and athletic and dating a girl many thought Loukaitis had a crush on, friends said.
King’s publicist on Tuesday said the author was out of town and could not be reached for comment on the Moses Lake shootings. “This has happened before,” Shirley Sonderegger said from King’s office in Bangor, Maine. “And, of course, it’s always Steve’s fault. We have no comment.”
Since the Revolutionary War, nearly 1.3M Americans have died in regional and global wars. Though the Civil War and World War II take the lion’s share of the carnage, making up nearly 80% of that total, Americans have been embroiled in a battle that cost at least 10K lives at least once a generation since the country was founded.
On Good Friday, 1864, President Abraham Lincoln and his wife, Mary Todd, settled into their box in Ford’s Theatre in Washington DC for a showing of the play Our American Cousin. Halfway into the play, John Wilkes Booth, a Confederate Sympathizer from Maryland entered the box from behind, and fired at the President with a pistol at close range. Lincoln died 12 hours later from his wound.
A little over 17 years later, President James Garfield was arriving at the Baltimore and Potomac Railroad Station, where he was met by Charles Guiteau, who raised a pistol and shot the President twice. Garfield would survive nearly 12 weeks before succumbing to complications from his gunshot wounds.
In 1901, President William McKinley was attending the Pan-American Exposition in Buffalo, New York when he was approached by the anarchist Leon Czolgolsz, who shot him twice before being pulled away by members of the gathered crowd. McKinley died 7 days later.
On 11/22/63, President John Kennedy was mid-way through a parade in Dallas, TX, when he was shot in the head by Lee Harvey Oswald, who had positioned himself on the fifth floor of the Texas School Book Depository adjacent to the motorcade route.
There have been 45 Presidents of the United States of America. 21 of the 45 have either been assassinated, or had attempts on their lives threatened or barely thwarted.
On December 1, 1997, 14 year old Michael Carneal wrapped a shotgun and a rifle in a blanket and took them to school, passing them off as an art project he was working on. He also carried a loaded pistol in his backpack. When he arrived, he inserted earplugs and took the pistol out of his bag. He fired eight rounds at a youth prayer group. Three girls died while hospitalized and five others were wounded.
There was a copy of Rage in his locker.
Carneal was the last straw for King, who had watched his third published novel become the scapegoat for 5 mass shootings in just a little over a decade. He requested all publishers to stop printing new copies of the novel Rage. Whether King feels culpable is anyone’s guess, but the few times he’s written about it suggest that he feels Rage might have at least played a part. As he writes in “Guns”:
“It took more than one slim novel to cause [the shooters] to do what they did. These were unhappy boys with deep psychological problems, boys who were bullied at school and bruised at home by parental neglect or outright abuse. My book did not break [them] or turn them into killers; they found something in my book that spoke to them because they were already broken. Yet I did see ‘Rage’ as a possible accelerant which is why I pulled it from sale. You don’t leave a can of gasoline where a boy with firebug tendencies can lay hands on it. I was protected under the First Amendment, and the law couldn't demand it. I pulled it because in my judgment it might be hurting people, and that made it the responsible thing to do.”
While the book continued to be printed in UK versions of The Bachman Books until the early 2000’s, the book has been completely out of print for over 15 years, during which time it has grown to be one of the top 100 most coveted out of print books, according to Bookfinder.com.
Copies can run up to $2000.
On April 20, 1999 Eric Harris and Dylan Klebold walked into Columbine High School in Colorado and killed 12 people, injuring another 21. From all accounts they had not read Rage.
On November 2, 1853, Mathews Flounoy Ward, the son of a wealthy and prominent Louisville, KY cotton merchant, along with his brother Robert Jr., went to the Louisville High School to demand an apology from its principal, William Butler, who had on the day before whipped Ward’s brother, William, for allegedly telling a lie. When Butler refused to apologize--or even explain the whipping--before the student body, Ward shot Butler with one of his two concealed weapons. Butler died, and a Jefferson County grand jury indicted the Wards for murder.
A terrible shooting occurred at Knight's Ferry, CA on the morning of February 16, 1867, when a dispute got out of hand. When a teacher expelled George Cheshire's daughter from school he threatened the teacher with a horsewhipping. The next time the two men saw each other, the teacher attacked Cheshire, who had come armed and shot the teacher dead. The next day, one of the teacher's sons killed Cheshire.
When the principal at an all-girls Union School wouldn't pass a note to one of the girls for him, 17-year-old Thomas McGiffin shot and seriously wounded the principal. This occurred on February 1, 1872 in Washington, PA.
On December 22, 1881 in Shelby County, IN, a school teacher shot at one of his students because he refused to write on a slate. The bullet missed the boy.
During a school dance in Plain Dealing, LA, a fight broke out that left 4 dead and 1 seriously wounded when guns were fired. This occurred on March 26, 1893.
On September 11, 1909, a student at the Bear Hollow School in Gravette, AK, told his fellow students that school was cancelled. When the teacher insisted that was not the case, the student pulled a knife. The teacher pulled out a gun and shot him dead.
Raymond B. Carroll killed his 14-year-old classmate, May McQuade, in Lagrange, NY on the morning of February 16, 1912. Carroll said he didn't think the gun was loaded.
In Cincinnati, OH 14-year-old student, Lawrence Angel, shot his teacher, Beatrice Conner, through the arm for sending him to the principal's office. The date was March 4, 1920.
By the time the Parents Music Resource Center (PMRC) opened shop in 1984, America was already solidly in the midst of a full-blown moral panic about childhood, innocence, and pornography. Twisted into fits by the obscenity of the so-called “Filthy Fifteen,” two of the PMRC founders' husbands (Al Gore and Jim Baker) held Senate hearings on the growth of obscenity in music. It was their belief that parents deserved the right to know what their kids were listening to, and that the increasingly adult themes of modern pop music were having a perverting effect on the youth. The PMRC sought a tiered rating system for music that would tell parents what was in the music their kids listened to.
While the hearing was largely kabuki theatre, given that the Recording Industry Association of America (RIAA) had already agreed to place the iconic “Parental Advisory” stickers on adult material, it was still valuable as a public debate, codifying the arguments on both sides in a sort of historical amber. You can still hear the same arguments today from both sides that were present in the hearing. Social conservatives argue that parents should know what their kids are consuming, and that adult-themed media can have a profound effect on young children. Artists argue that labeling music is tantamount to censorship, and that children are far more resilient than their parents give them credit for.
In the end, the PMRC won the debate (at least from a legislative standpoint), and the Parental Advisory stickers started appearing the following year. The effect on the recording industry was almost immediate. As Dee Snider writes:
“Sadly, the aftermath of the debacle was even worse than I feared. Our First Amendment constitutional right to freedom of speech had been eroded, yet the average record buyer was apathetic. The most typical comment about the sticker was, ‘Now we know which records to buy!’ The music consumer just didn’t understand how that sticker would be used against them. (And used against them it was.)
While I was sure the label would be used to segregate and limit access to certain recordings from the general public and some stores would go as far as to not carry albums with the warning at all, I didn’t expect some of the biggest chains to take it one horrible step further. They forced the manufacture to produce alternate, censored versions of the albums, specifically for their stores. The average adult or young-adult record buyer (and even parents buying them for their younger kids) had no idea that the album they were purchasing from Walmart had content either “bleeped out” or completely removed. The ‘stickering’ of recorded product wasn’t giving the buyer the knowledge to make an educated choice, it was being used to decide for the record buyer what they could or could not listen to.”
It's beyond doubt that the sticker changed consumer behavior. What’s in doubt is whether it educated the public or not, or whether it simply provided an easy release valve for a culture battling against itself. After all, fifteen years later America had the same debate all over again…this time about video games. It seems every time a new medium comes of age a rating system gets applied: in 1968 movies got the MPAA rating system; in 1986, music got the Parental Advisory sticker; and in 1994 video games got the ESRB.
Parents have lots of information about what their kids consume these days.
"Hey, PMRC, you stupid fuckin' assholes
The sticker on the record is what makes 'em sell gold.
Can't you see, you alcoholic idiots
The more you try to suppress us, the larger we get."
- Ice T, "Freedom of Speech"
On June 4, 1936 in Bethlehem, PA Wesley Clow killed his Lehigh University English instructor, C. Wesley Phy because Phy wouldn't change his grade to passing. Clow committed suicide after shooting Phy.
Charles Whitman, a 25-year-old engineering student, got onto the observation deck at the University of Texas-Austin on August 1, 1966, where he killed seventeen people and wounded thirty-one during a 96-minute shooting rampage. He had earlier murdered his wife and mother at their homes. It was the deadliest shooting on a U.S. college campus until the Virginia Tech shooting in 2007.
On April 16, 2007 a 23-year-old Virginia Tech student, armed with 2 pistols, killed thirty-two students and faculty members, and wounded another seventeen students and faculty members in two separate attacks before committing suicide.
20-year-old Adam Lanza, killed twenty-six people and himself when he brought four guns to Sandy Hook Elementary School in Newtown, CT. He killed twenty first-grade children aged six and seven during the attack at school, along with six adults, including four teachers, the principal, and the school psychologist. Two other persons were injured.
There were a lot of thoughts and prayers.
February 14, 2018, a 19-year-old former student began shooting students and staff members at Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School in Parkland, FL with a semi-automatic AR-15 type rifle after activating a fire alarm. 17 people were killed, and 17 others were injured, prompting one of the largest student-led gun-legislation movements the United States has ever seen.
The first documented school shooting in America was in 1840, 126 years before Stephen King started the manuscript for Rage, when a University of Virginia professor was shot dead by one of his students. During Rage’s relatively short print life, there were almost 100 school shootings, including the 5 tangentially related to the book. But there have been at least 230 school shootings in the United States since Michael Corneal’s own shooting prompted Stephen King to pull Rage from print.
I think it’s fair to say that Rage has had almost no appreciable difference on the number or frequency of school shootings in the United States. While King’s self-censorship was an admirable example of putting one’s money where one's mouth is, Rage is nothing more than a barely-notable blip in America’s nearly 175-year love affair with schoolyard bloodshed.
And yet it’s still a disturbing read. Not just because of the nonchalance of the violence, but also because of what it reveals about America’s soul. It’s easy to get hung up on the guns and the echoes of modern tragedies and miss the book’s much more potent and terrifying conclusion: that there is something inherently sick about America.
The story of Rage is not just the story of a violent young man terrorizing his classmates; it’s the story of an abused, and cynical anti-hero who cracks open something deeply disturbing in his colleagues. King fleshes out Decker’s backstory just enough for the reader to see he’s a highly sensitive kid tormented by the psychological traumas of his past: his father’s casual violence, his mother’s overprotectiveness. He’s like a younger, more tortured Benjamin Braddock, disillusioned, frightened, and suffering from an undiagnosed psychosis. That he’s also affluent, relatively well-liked, white, and male, makes him an uncanny canary in the coal mine for the boogeymen that have emerged out of the post-Vietnam American psyche.
Decker is a character we recognize, if maybe a little more sympathetically than we’re used to. We’ve seen him literally hundreds of times since the 1970’s, on the news, in the hashtags. But his classmates are something new entirely, and something even more horrible. The bulk of the book is spent there in the classroom, as his classmates go from frightened hostages to gleeful accomplices in the near-fatal torment of the most popular kid in the class, Ted Jones.
Jones is a stand-in for the status quo, a belligerently cynical voice denouncing the whole charade as ill-conceived, unnecessary, and horrible. Decker represents the opposite, a smashing of the normal order, a sort of freaky holiday where the rules no longer apply. Decker tells his story to his classmates, and then goes around the room, forcing everyone else to confess their sins, remove their masks, and find common ground in their mutual suffering. Jones is the only one who doesn’t rise to the challenge, refusing to take the bait, and for his inflexibility, he becomes a sort of sacrificial lamb for the group's collective sins, with Decker taking on the role of ancient mystic, the minister of the ceremonial bloodletting.
In the end the class turns on Jones, assaulting him and tormenting him to the point that he is rendered bloodied and catatonic. That King doesn't really explain what they've done to him makes the rite that much darker and mystical. Then they all walk free into the sunlight of the afternoon, with renewed faith in their own power. Decker stays behind and faces the consequences of what he’s done, another sort of sacrifice. The minister, after-all, is as much tied to the ceremony as the sacrifice itself.
Rage is a close-up view of the cataclysmic tearing of the American fabric that started in the 1960’s and has borne poisoned fruit in the decades since. It’s one of the first literary works to take aim at the violence, cynicism, and privilege at the heart of the American experiment, an updated and Americanized version of that other horrifying rite of passage Lord of the Flies. But where the violence was shocking in Golding’s book, there are no surprises in Rage. That Affluent, white, upstanding children are capable of terrible destruction is common knowledge now. It’s not a bug in the American body politic, but rather a feature. King just recognized it much sooner than everyone else. Rage is a hard read because it shows how very close white, affluent, comfortable America is to committing terrible atrocities in the name of maintaining “order.”
Nowhere is that more apparent than in the closing two chapters, where the people who tore Ted Jones apart, figuratively and literally, all go on to lead successful, fulfilling lives. All they had to do was stick together, claim ignorance, and watch their privilege work its ancient magic. In the end, they were rewarded for their transgressions, a sort of totemic fulfilling of their role as rich, white kids.
And Charlie Decker, the tormented ringleader at the heart of this gross melodrama? Why he’s never felt better. He’s free as a bird.
- The janitor at Placerville High School is named Mr. Fazio, which is also the name of the Derry Elementary School janitor in It. One has to wonder if they are the same person (since It takes place in 1958 and Rage takes place in 1974, it's possible it's the same man), or if they are related. Given that It's Mr. Fazio is brothers with Armando Fazio, the Derry dump keeper, maybe the Fazio family is just fond of cleaning work. Or perhaps Stephen King just really likes giving that name to school janitors.
- In Chapter 14, King writes a passage about an author (Donald Westlake) writing under the pen name Richard Stark. It's an odd thing for King to throw into his first pseudonymous novel, especially when he's literally using the name Richard. This brings up the interesting theme of theatre in this novel. King was writing under a pen name, there are repeated mentions of pen names and people playing parts, and the antagonist (protagonist?) Charlie Decker often portrays himself feeling as though he's in a play, or playing a part in a melodrama. It could be part of his psychosis, a dissociation from real life, but King comes back to it so often, in so many contexts, that it seems more like a theme.
- In Chapter 20, King mentions a girl being the type who would "agonize over long, seldom-mailed letters to John Travolta, written by the close, anxious light of Tensor study lamps." It's an interesting addition, given that Travolta was cast as Billy Nolan in the first film adaptation of a King novel, Carrie. Given that the manuscript for Rage was started in 1966 while King was still in college, and Travolta didn't appear on the scene until 1972, one has to assume this was thrown in before the book's publication. Whether it was a subtle nod to his casting in Carrie, or a coincidence is unknown.