For my midterm short story review, the two stories I chose to read were: 1. O. Henry’s, The Ransom of Red Chief (because I was in the play version of the story in high school) and 2. Stephen King’s, Suffer the Little Children (because I really like Stephen King). The one I chose to write about however was the second one.
The plot starts out with a third grade teacher named Miss Sidley. King in the first paragraph of the story aptly compares her to God, by explaining how she knows every detail of her class from those chewing gum, to those wanting to go to the restroom to trade baseball cards instead of use the facilities.
King shows this absolute power in her mannerisms, her body language, and the looks that we, the reader, glimpse into her mind. She is described as “a small woman, who had to stretch to write on the highest level of the blackboard.” Graying, and plagued with a failing back, which she wears a brace to support, this woman was still feared by all the children.
The event that really gives way to the plot at hand though, is while the children are having their spelling lesson, and one little boy, Robert, uses the word tomorrow in a interesting little sentence.
“Tomorrow, a bad thing will happen,” he says. This is one of the most common elements of fiction, alliteration. This is a key plot point in the story, and if you miss it, you won’t understand. Then, after this statement, Miss Sidley begins to see Robert change. It is implied that it is a physical transformation, but you don’t get concrete details on this transformation until later in the story. You only learn at first that something is “different” about the way he looks. That something sticks in her mind the rest of the day, plaguing her as she eats her dinner of poached eggs on toast, and haunting her dreams (which are more nightmares, which is interesting because the title of the book this was reprinted from was called Nightmares and Dreamscapes). The story progresses with Miss Sidley seeing more and more of the children changing into the horrible evil demons. She holds Robert after school one day and demands to get the truth out of him about these creatures.
He taunts her, telling her that there are eleven more creatures such as him in their school. He asks her if she wants to see him change up close, but she just keeps telling him to go away. Then all of the sudden we see it. The transformation. Described as “face ran together like melting wax, the eyes flattening and spreading like knife-struck egg yolks (poached eggs, anyone?), nose widening and yawning, mouth disappearing. The head elongated, and the hair was suddenly not hair, but straggling, twitching growths. This causes Miss Sidley to run, terrified out of the school, narrowly missing getting hit by an oncoming school bus. This incident causes her not to come back to her job for a month. When she does come back, things are perpetually worse. Robert undermines her authority even further by ridiculing her sanity, telling her how there’s so many of these creatures now. She realizes that she is becoming that which she loathes, someone who’s losing.
To regain her control, her winning, and possibly what little bit of sanity she thinks she has, the next day, she brings a gun to school, and begins giving a “special test” in the mimeograph room. She got so far as to kill twelve of the students, if a fellow teacher hadn’t stopped her. She isn’t put on trial (one would assume this is because she is declared not sane to be tried), but rather enrolled into an asylum. A year later under “strictly controlled conditions” she was placed in an experimental encounter situation with some cataclysmically retarded children. At first she responds very well to the situation, interacting with the children lovingly. But then she sees something that disturbs her, and asks to be taken away. Later that night, she kills herself with a bit of broken mirror glass.
This story leaves a lot of questions that can only be answered with assumptions. Was Miss Sidley really seeing things, or was her mind playing tricks on her in her old age? Were these illusions created to make her leave? Was her death suppose to be the ultimate result? Was this her penance, her punishment for being such an evil, strict, controlling teacher all these years? The title of this story can also be interpreted many ways. The children suffered with this teacher, the children made their teacher suffer, the children being killed suffering, the children in the class that didn’t die, and their suffering. No one (well, except for hopefully King himself) knows the answers to these numerous questions. But I think this is why people read stories. They want to make their own assumptions and interpretations of a writers work. I think this is the beauty of writing a piece of literature.