Copyright 2010 by Gary L. Pullman
On the heels of her husband’s sudden death, after thirty years of service as Chester’s Mill police chief, Brenda Perkins, feeling as if she can’t go on, prayers to God for the opportunity to speak to her husband one more time, even if it is only in her dreams. She is overwhelmed when her prayer is answered a few minutes later, albeit “in a completely unexpected way,” as she discovers an icon on his computer’s desktop. The icon, which she’s never seen before, is linked to a file concerning a “misappropriation of town goods and services” by “Selectman Sanders,” which includes the “manufacture and sale of illegal drugs.” “It appears that her prayer had been answered,” the omniscient narrator opines, and Brenda, accessing the file, clicks “ONGOING INVESTIGATION,” and lets “her husband talk to her” (166).
In my previous post, I suggested that the suddenness of death and a world in which a flight instructor and his student or a police chief with more than three decades of service to the community under his belt can be killed with as much abandon as a woodchuck is a dangerous world, indeed; it is also, perhaps, an absurd one, for what meaning or value is possible in a world in which human beings are dispatched with as little rhyme or reason and as much cosmic indifference as a woodchuck is suddenly sliced in half? The opening pages of Under the Dome suggest such questions, I said, and suggested that the rest of the novel might be expected to offer some answers concerning these questions.
It seems that, already, only 89 pages after her husband’s demise, Stephen King implies one such answer. Although death may come suddenly, if not always unexpectedly, the work that men and women accomplish in the years during which they toil on behalf of their communities, may transcend the transience of their own temporal lives. Certainly the beneficial effects of the work that Howard (“Duke”) Perkins performed in service to Chester’s Mill as the town’s police chief (and was performing even at the time of his death) seems likely to have advantageous effects for the townspeople of Chester’s Mill. His work outlives him; so, it appears, will the positive consequences of this work. It is by cooperative interaction in our personal and vocational lives, King suggests, by having Brenda stumble onto her late husband’s case against Selectman Big Jim Sanders, that we conquer death, extending our influence as individuals beyond our earthly years, making our relatively short-lived lives important beyond our own existence as individuals and important to the society and generations that survive our deaths and continue, in our stead, to transmit cultural and social traditions, values, and, indeed, daily work to posterity.
Death may come suddenly, but death, sudden or not, does not, in and of itself, make our existence inconsequential or worthless. King, we may anticipate, will have more to add in contradiction of the notion that death renders life meaningless, as some claim. Death is horrible, true enough, but it needn’t be annihilative, especially when there is an eternal God who, it appears, listens to, and answers, prayers.