Analyzing Stephen King's Cujo, Carrie, and The Girl Who Loved Tom Gordon

Categories: Stephen King

Stephen King is a very popular author and is known for his many best-selling novels. His main genre is horror, which has always interested me because I love horror movies. This year I had asked my friend, who is now a senior, about the year-long reading project. She suggested Stephen King because he is well known and has a lot of critical mass behind his novels. Plus, he is a great author and has a unique style of writing. A few books came to mind when I thought of Stephen King, some of which I had seen the movies that are based off of them.

I figured if the movies were great, the books had to be just as great if not better. “Cujo" and "Carrie" were both movies I had seen in the past, and they were very intriguing and frightening, leaving you on the edge of your seat. My third book, “The Girl Who Loved Tom Gordon”, seemed interesting too; it would be something new and interesting for me to read.

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I have now finished all 3 books and have read 9 critical essays. In addition, I've written a proposal, 3 annotated bibliographies, a book review, and a critical essay of my own. Through each portion of the project I've learned so many things that bring me to the point I'm at now. Independently and to the best of my abilities, I have used the time between due dates to thoroughly read each of my books along with their accompanying critical essays. Conferencing with both the teacher and the students has helped me to better my writing as a way of approaching self-advocacy. Online databases have also helped me to find reputable and well-written articles to go with each one of my books and annotated bibliographies. I've seen what different types of elements King uses in his horror novels in order to produce the best stories he can. There are many examples of literary elements used in his work that make him such a well-known author. King presents many different conflicts in his books at different points of views.

For example, Trisha in "The Girl Who Loved Tom Gordon” is forced to survive alone in the wilderness at the young age of nine years old. This is a very different and unusual setting for a nine year old to be placed in, but she learns how to take care of herself and use her surroundings in order to survive. In a similar situation, Donna Trenton in “Cujo" has to fight for survival as well when she is trapped in her broken down car with her little son Tad. In "Carrie”, Carrie White is an outsider in her school with telekinetic powers and all she wants is to fit in with the others. Her lowering self-esteem and fear of disapproval keep her from living her life to the fullest.

I have also noticed that Stephen King incorporates dynamic characters into almost all of his novels. Also, I've noticed that more often main characters are dynamic than static, and background characters are more often static than dynamic. An example of one that I was able to read about was Donna Trenton in “Cujo". In the beginning of the novel, Donna is a woman who relies on others for almost everything and always acts as the damsel in distress. As the story progresses, she is faced with a problem that she is going to have to solve by herself, for her and her son's sake. Donna Trenton evolves from a helpless housewife to an independent heroine who is certainly admirable. Carrie White in "Carrie" can also be considered a dynamic character. She goes from the girl who has always been picked on to the girl that nobody wants to mess with - even if it was the hard way. Carrie's mother, on the other hand, may be considered a static character because the way she treats Carrie and her views do not change from beginning to end.

Book Overviews "The Girl Who Loved Tom Gordon" – Stephen King: 

Nine-year-old Trisha McFarland lives with her recently divorced mother and older brother, Pete. She tires of their constant bickering back and forth each and every day. When the family decides to go on a six-mile hiking trip, Trisha wanders off course by herself and becomes hopelessly lost in the mysterious wilderness around her. She is alone, with only her ingenuity as a defense against the elements, and her courage and faith to withstand her mounting fears. However, with her in her backpack she has her Walkman, which she uses to tune into the Boston Red Sox game to listen to her favorite player: Tom Gordon. He gives her hope that she will be rescued and taken back to her family.

There seems to be a monster haunting her and following her close behind as she roams through the seemingly endless forest. Keeping her mind and body intact, she must rely on herself and only herself to get out of the forest alive. With little food and drink in her backpack, she scrounges for any source of nourishment that will give her enough energy to keep moving. At her peak of sickness, hallucination, and panic she thankfully comes to a road on which she is found by a rescuer. Incredibly, the courageous and faithful heroine Trisha is taken to a hospital where she is reunited by her family.

"Carrie” – Stephen King:

Carrie White is a 16-year-old girl with the amazing power of telekinesis. She is an outcast among her classmates and is teased on a daily basis. Carrie gets her period for the first time while showering after gym class in the girls' locker room. She had never been told about the woman's menstrual cycle in her life. Not knowing this is totally normal, she panics in front of all the girls in the locker room. This unfortunate and traumatizing incident brings even more teasing and isolation for poor Carrie White. Her mother, an overly religious control freak, brainwashes Carrie day after day, causing Carrie to feel like a prisoner in her own home as well as outside of her home. 

When she is asked to prom by the most popular boy in school, Tommy Ross, she is taken by surprise and after some hesitation, agrees to go. People are finding out about the new prom couple all over school and are bewildered that a freak like Carrie White would get asked to prom by someone as popular as Tommy Ross.

As they arrive at prom, everything seems to be going great until Tommy and Carrie are crowned prom king and queen. Two kids who rigged the prom election set up buckets of pig blood to be dumped above Carrie as she and Tommy sat on the stage. 

The blood is dumped onto Carrie and the whole school points and laughs at her. At this very moment, Carrie snaps and completely unleashes her telekinetic powers, getting well-deserved revenge for everything everyone has done to her throughout her life. She kills almost everyone in the gym, then leaves to wreak even more havoc in their town.

Fires are started and even more people are injured and killed. Carrie kills her mother by telekinetically stopping her heart, then proceeding deeper into the city, where her collected injuries finally get the best of her and she dies on the side of the road.

“Cujo” – Stephen King:

The story of Cujo revolves around two particular families: the Cambers and the Trentons. The Cambers family consists of Joe, his wife Charity, and their son Brett. The Trentons consist of Vic, his wife Donna, and their little son Tad. Cujo, the Cambers' once-friendly St. Bernard, gradually turns into a killer after being bitten by a rabid bat.

Vic is in New York trying to contain a disastrous ad campaign. Feeling abandoned by her workaholic husband, who is frequently out of town, Donna Trenton embarks on an affair with a local handyman. This leads to problems with Donna and Vic's marriage. Left to fend for herself, she takes her ailing Pinto to Joe Cambers' garage for repairs. What she doesn't know is that all Joe is dead inside the house - killed by the rabid Cujo - and Charity and Brett are on a trip to see family.

While searching for anyone who may be home, Donna comes face to face with Cujo, who seemed so harmless and sweet during their last visit. She is confused but then realizes that Cujo is sick when he begins to charge at her. Now both Donna and Tad are trapped in the sweltering hot Pinto with Cujo watching them like a predator close by. At this point in the story, Donna is forced to become the heroine for herself and her son in order to save them both from one of two terrible fates: being mauled by a rabid dog or starving to death in the increasingly hot Pinto.

She does what she has never done in her past - she fights for her and her son's life until she can't fight anymore. Up until then she had always relied on others to save her when she needed help; always acting as if she were a damsel in distress. Through trial and error she comes very close to dying along with her son after she is bitten on the stomach and leg. After a few days, Vic and the police show up because Vic thought that the man Donna had an affair with had kidnapped her. Donna is taken to the hospital and is quickly treated for rabies and recovers. Tad, however, dies from dehydration before he can be helped. Cujo is shot and killed, and his head is removed for a biopsy and then cremated. Both families try to move on and forget about the recent incidents that has changed their lives forever.

Britney Bindgen 

Van Erden

The Fight for Survival

What forces in life can cause people to change? Stephen King gives a well thought out example in his horror novel “Cujo.” Through careful observation of theme, plot, characterization, and conflict, we can unravel the changes a character makes and why they make those changes from the beginning of a story to the end. King's female protagonist and heroine Donna Trenton is forced to fight for her and her son's survival when they are trapped in a hot broken down car only to be faced with a rabid dog named Cujo. As a dynamic character, Donna transforms from a helpless damsel in distress into a courageous, independent heroine by the end of the novel.

Always used to living her life constantly depending on others for help when needed, Donna Trenton starts out fairly weak and passive. She feels alone and ultimately fears independence. Being a stay-at-home mother, taking care of her young son Tad is all she needs to worry about. However, what frightens her is that she is slowly losing Tad every day to the world as he grows up. Her husband, Vic, is almost always away on business trips, leaving Donna alone at home while Tad is at school.

She feels as if Tad is the only thing she has worth fighting for. With this believable situation we can very easily relate to Donna and sympathize with her. "King establishes these believable contexts in order to place the reader in a position where he or she is forced to establish a bond with the protagonist under siege.” (Magistrale 2).

Following the rising action of the story, Donna takes Tad with her to get their car fixed at the Cambers' house. After realizing no one is home, Donna is faced with the rabid Cujo for the first time. He attacks but Donna takes refuge in her now broken down car with her son and no one to come to their rescue. It is at this point in the story where Donna comes to the realization that she must act on this problem herself for her and her son's sake. We notice her changing and becoming far stronger and more independent than she ever was. “Trapped by Cujo in the Pinto, which becomes a symbol of her entire life as a dependent, Donna slowly begins to take control of her life.” (Senf 4).

Donna then begins to think of ways to get out of the situation safely with herself and her son in one piece. In an attempt to race into the house, she is bitten multiple times. She just barely makes it back to safety locked inside the car. As two days go by, the hottest of the year, Donna knows Tad is starting to become dehydrated and realizes she needs to act quickly in order to save her son. Time is ticking away and she knows she must take risks that may involve getting herself hurt in order to overcome the opposing force, or protagonist, Cujo. “Only then can she attempt to save both her son and herself from the rabid Cujo, a monster that Kind emphasizes is a symbol for all the evil forces against which human beings must struggle, only then can she become a suitable representative of the modern, more assertive woman.” (Senf 1). The force that drives Donna to fight for survival is her saving her son's life.

There are also other evident examples of the fight for survival in "The Girl Who Loved Tom Gordon". At only nine years old, Trisha is forced to wander through a seemingly endless forest alone with nothing but her Walkman to keep her company. 

Trisha, being such a young girl on her own, gains more and more sympathy from readers as the plot thickens. “You have to take some time and make your reader care about the characters in the story." (Cahill 3). Stephen King wants his audience to connect with his characters and understand who they are by getting to know them throughout the story. We are taken deeper into the minds of the characters in order to know how they think and feel about their particular situation. Trisha is constantly finding a way to survive by means of searching for food and water around her. As readers, feel the desire for the protagonist to reach happiness and conquer their difficult tasks, however  they must do so. In her journey she thinks of her family and listens to baseball games on her Walkman. Being reunited with her family and baseball player Tom Gordon are forces that drive Trisha to keep moving and fighting for survival.

In "Carrie", sixteen-year-old Carrie White must fight for survival in a slightly different way. She lives a life of isolation and sadness. Having grown up in a very unusual environment with the power of telekinesis, she is an outcast amongst her fellow peers. Because her overly controlling mother never taught her the ways of life, she is unaware of the changes in like that come with being a teenage girl. “Her first and greatest impediment to a normal life is her mother, a woman indoctrinated with a fierce religious fanaticism who refuses to teach Carrie the adjustment skills necessary for survival in the real world." (Magistrale 2). Carrie becomes increasingly overwhelmed and with life not knowing how she should go about living. You could say that she is fighting for happiness rather than survival. Carrie tries to become more social throughout the book by going to prom with the most popular boy in school. She even stands up for herself to her mother for the first time because she is sick and tired of the melancholy life she lives. The force that drives Carrie to fight for survival is a normal, happy life.

The fight for survival is a difficult path to take and may involve making a change in one self. Different characters have different reasons for fighting for survival, but all of them have a significant meaning behind them. The will to fight can take one to places that they never knew they could get to, or heights they never knew they could reach. It may be hard to keep going when times get tough and everything seems hopeless, but keeping important goals in mind can help one get through anything. Everyone has a force that drives them to push themselves to survive, and as we followed King's dynamic heroine Donna Trenton through her gradual change in “Cujo”, nine-year-old Trisha McFarland in “The Girl Who Loved Tom Gordon", and outcast Carrie in “Carrie", we sympathized with them and cheered them on as they fought differently for their individual survival.


  1. Alexander, Alex E. "Stephen King's Carrie A Universal Fairytale." Journal of Popular Culture 13.2 (Fall 1979): 282-288. Rpt. in  ontemporary Literary Criticism Select. Detroit: Gale, 2008. Literature Resource Center. Web. 8 Jan. 2013.
  2. Barker, Clive. "Stephen King: Surviving the Ride." N.p., Jan. 1986. Gale Cengage Learning – Literature Resource Center. Web. 9 Oct. 2012.
  3. Cahill, Byron. "Stephen King: Halloween's Answer to Santa Claus." N.p., Oct. 2005. Gale Cengage Learning - Literature Resource Center. Web. 9 Oct. 2012
  4. Egan, James. "Technohorror: The Dystopian Vision of Stephen King." N.p., July-Aug. 1988. Gale Cengage Learning - Literature Resource Center. Web. 9 Oct. 2012.
  5. Hohne, Karen A. "The Power of the Spoken Word in the Works of Stephen King." Journal of Popular Culture 28.2 (Fall 1994): 93-103. Rpt. in Contemporary Literary Criticism Select. Detroit: Gale, 2008. Literature Resource Center. Web. 1 Apr. 2013.
  6. King, Stephen. Carrie. New York: Random House, 1974. Print.
  7. King, Stephen. Cujo. New York: Signet, 1981. Print.
  8. King, Stephen. The Girl Who Loved Tom Gordon. New York: Pocket Books, 1999. Print.
  9. Magistrale, Tony. "Inherited Haunts: Stephen King's Terrible Children." Extrapolation 26.1 (Spring 1985): 43-49. Rpt. in Contemporary Literary Criticism. Ed. Jeffrey W. Hunter and Deborah A. Schmitt. Vol. 113. Detroit: Gale Group, 1999. Literature Resource Center. Web. 8 Jan. 2013.
  10. Magistrale, Tony. "Stephen King: Overview." Reference Guide to American Literature. Ed. Jim Kamp. 3rd ed. Detroit: St. James Press, 1994. Literature Resource Center. Web. 1 Apr. 2013.
  11. Senf, Carol A. "Donna Trenton, Stephen King's Modern American Heroine." Heroines of Popular Culture. Ed. Pat Browne. Bowling Green State University Popular Press, 1987. 91-100. Rpt. in Contemporary Literary Criticism Select. Detroit: Gale, 2008. 
  12. Literature Resource Center. Web. 1 Apr. 2013.
  13. Smith, Greg. "The Literary Equivalent of a Big Mac and Fries?: Academics, Moralists, and the Stephen King Phenomenon." Midwest Quarterly 43.4 (Summer 2002): 329-345. Rpt. in Contemporary Literary Criticism Select. Detroit: Gale, 2008. Literature Resource Center. Web. 8 Jan. 2013.
Updated: May 03, 2023
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Analyzing Stephen King's Cujo, Carrie, and The Girl Who Loved Tom Gordon. (2022, Mar 26). Retrieved from

Analyzing Stephen King's Cujo, Carrie, and The Girl Who Loved Tom Gordon essay
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