Copyright 2010 by Gary L. Pullman
For quite a few pages, ever since Joe McClatchey, Norrie Calvert, and Benny Drake discovered what they (and physician’s assistant Rusty Everett) believe is the dome generator, King has been building suspense concerning the device. Finally, Rusty not only sees it firsthand, but conducts a couple of tentative experiments with it. The device is odd: although the radiation level has been just shy of the danger zone all the way up Black Ridge, from McCoy’s Orchard, the Geiger counter now reads the threat as zero, and the condition of a hale and hearty squirrel, living (or, at least, foraging) in the area testifies to the safety of the area--from radiation, at any rate. Unwisely, Rusty, perhaps emboldened by the zero reading and the bright-eyed and bushy-tailed rodent, “bent and touched the surface of the generator--if it was a generator.” Although he is wearing protective gloves, the result of his contact is immediate:
A strong shock immediately surged up his arm and through his body. He tried to pull back and couldn’t. His muscles were locked up tight. The Geiger counter gave a single bray, then fell silent. Rusty had no idea whether or not the needle swung into the danger zone, because he couldn’t move his eyes, either. The light was leaving the world, funneling out of it like water going down a bathtub drain, and he thought with sudden clam clarity: I’m going to die. . . (736).However, Rusty doesn’t die. Instead, he has either a hallucination or makes a telepathic connection, albeit one way, with him as the receiver, with an extraterrestrial race--or so, at least, he believes, seeing “faces.” but not “human faces, and later he would not be sure they were faces at all. They were geometric solids that seemed to be padded in leather” with “diamond shapes on their sides” that “could have been ears.” These “heads--if they were heads--turned to each other. . . In [apparent] discussion,” and Rusty thinks he “heard laughter,” picturing children at play at the local grammar school his daughters attend (735)
Rusty removes his iron apron and lays it over the generator. The metal catches fire, blisters, and disintegrates Despite witnessing the apparent defensive capability of the device and having himself been shocked by it, Rusty, having removed his gloves, seizes the generator in his bare hands, anticipating another shock, a burn, or another telepathic connection to the aliens. Instead, “there was nothing” (737). Despite its relatively small size--a little bigger than the proverbial breadbox--the generator refuses to budge. As Rusty wonders what to do next, he hears a tremendous explosion, looks up, and sees that another airplane, this one a large passenger jet, has crashed into the dome.
As a result of the jet’s crashing into the barrier, the townspeople unite more and more, wearing blue armbands as a sign of their solidarity. This solidarity is necessary, of course, to secure Big Jim Rennie’s political base and power, and it happens just before the selectman gives his speech to the townspeople. In including this scene, King also takes the opportunity to philosophize about human behavior, suggesting that, for approximately fifty percent of a population, long-term trauma encourages acceptance in place of denial. Acceptance, in turn, succumbs to dependency, and dependency gives way to resignation:
Earlier that morning, perhaps fifteen percent of the town was wearing blue “solidarity” armbands; by sundown on this Wednesday in October, it will be twice that. When the sun comes up tomorrow, it will be over fifty percent of the population.For years, the townspeople of Chester’s Mill have been more or less content, most of the time, to let Big Jim Rennie take charge of their affairs, to look out for the supposed good of the town, to take care of them, both individually and collectively. Now that they are involved in a crisis beyond human reckoning, the townspeople seem prepared to accept his dictatorial leadership, depending upon his strength and courage, despite his corruption. King has set the stage for Big Jim’s gathering of greater and greater power unto himself during his upcoming speech before the accepting, dependent, and resigned citizenry of Chester’s Mill. Big Jim himself knows as much. As he stands outside Town Hall, having hurried forth to see what caused the great explosion that occurred as he was working on his speeches--”one to the cops tonight. . . [and] one to the entire town tomorrow night”--he observes the townspeople “staring up into the sky with their mouths gaped open,” and he thinks, “they looked like sheep dressed in human clothing. Tomorrow night they would crowd into the Town Hall and go baaa baaa baaa, when’ll it get better? And baaa baaa baaa, take care of us until it does. And he would” (741).
Denial gives way to acceptance; acceptance breeds dependence. Anyone who’s ever cared for a terminal patient will tell you that, too. . . .
They need someone to sit with them when the night is dark and the hours stretch out. They need someone to say, Sleep now, it will be better in the morning. I’m here, so sleep. Sleep now. Sleep and let me take care of everything.
Meanwhile, since page 533, Colonel Dale (“Barbie”) Barbara has been in jail on trumped-up assault, rape, and murder charges. Apart from drinking from his toilet bowl, eating cereal upon which his jailers have spat and deposited nasal mucus, and bantering with his captors while he waits for Deputy Jackie Wettington to rescue him, he does precious little. Even before his incarceration, he didn’t do much other than cook at the local restaurant, get into a fight, and quell a riot. All in all, to say that Barbie is a passive protagonist is putting it mildly. Perhaps the fictional version of President Barack Hussein Obama erred in selecting Barbie as his official representative inside the dome. Alternatively, King may be saving Barbie’s heroic feats for the resolution of his massive story. If so, though, one has to wonder, at this point, whether the reader will care.
It is no longer either acceptable to readers from either an artistic standpoint or from a politically correct perspective to characterize dramatic personae on the basis of their physical appearance, so that physically unattractive characters are villains and beautiful people are heroes or heroines, as was the stereotypical practice of days gone by. However, King uses a similar approach, which is both aesthetically and socially acceptable (so far): he uses references to physical organs (his male characters often exhibit fear, for instance, by a tightening of, or a crawling sensation in, their testes and scrota, and, throughout Under the Dome, King references Big Jim’s heart condition--an Achilles’ heel, no doubt--as a means of suggesting his emotional state. An example occurs when he fears that the crashing jet may have been the detonation of an atomic bomb that could destroy the dome before Big Jim would like to have the barrier obliterated and the townspeople rescued. It is only when he understands that the explosion was that of an aircraft rather than a bomb that he begins to relax and his heart rate slows: “Big Jim felt a cautious sense of relief, and his triphammering heart slowed a bit. It was a plane. . . just a plane and not a nuke or some kind of super-missile. . . “ (740). However, when Colonel Cox is slow to get back to him in confirmation of the airliner’s identity, his heart rate again increases: “Big Jim’s heart had been slowing toward its normal speed (if a hundred and twenty beats per minute can be so characterized), but now it sped up again and took one of those looping misbeats. He coughed and pounded his chest. His heart seemed almost to settle, then went into a full-blown arrhythmia” (741). Since the heart symbolizes the spiritual, moral, and emotional aspects of the personality, King has chosen wisely in using Big Jim’s heart condition as a metaphor for his personal, political, and spiritual corruption.
Once again, although King cites George W. Bush and Dick Cheney (who, like Big Jim, has a bad heart) as his models for Big Jim, there are strong parallels in the selectman’s behavior to both President Obama and his chief advisor, Rahm Emmanuel. Like Emmanuel, Big Jim believes in never letting a crisis go to waste, and, like Obama, he uses such situations to further his own political base and personal power, acting in a tyrannical and self-righteous manner, believing that not only does he know what’s best for the town he governs but also that he is doing God’s will in doing so. The arrogance of Emmanuel, Obama, and Big Jim is another striking parallel between the situation “under the dome” and that in present-day America. Big Jim, who sees his fellow townspeople as “sheep,” thinks “Sheep need a shepherd,” and he believes that, “under certain circumstances, panic could be good. Under certain circumstances, it could--like food riots and acts of arson--have a beneficial effect.” (So might such conditions as a worldwide economic meltdown, worsened by runaway spending; a seemingly endless war in Afghanistan; the Gulf oil spill; international terrorism; a porous border and massive illegal immigration; and whatever “crisis” exists or can be invented next, it seems.) Like Obama, who seldom speaks without a carefully prepared speech projected onto a teleprompter, Big Jim also knows the value of prepared speeches. When Colonel Cox pleads with the selectman to make sure that the people of Chester’s Mill understand that the jetliner’s crash was “just an accident,” Big Jim thinks, “They’ll know what I tell them and believe what I want them to” (742).
Are such parallels intentional, showing that King’s political thought processes have matured beyond black-or-white, either-or fallacious form of partisan politics and the playing of an “us” liberals/Democrats against “them” conservatives/Republicans blame game, or are these parallels the result of mere coincidence, suggesting that King remains more an ideologue than an independent thinker? Is it possible that one of the world’s most popular writers hasn’t stretched his own political perspective beyond that of his college years when it was all the rage to “STICK IT TO THE MAN,” as young Joe McClatchey would have had his fellow students do in response to the descent of the dome? Is it possible that King, who shows himself to be fairly astute in his analysis and understanding of human behavior, could be so superficial and stereotypical in his perception of politics? It is possible, of course, but it’s not desirable. According to his own statements, Big Jim is modeled upon President Bush (the son) and Vice-President Chaney. That the same character could easily have been modeled upon President Obama and Rahm Emmanuel should teach King something, if it hasn’t already: the two-party system is more corrupt than Big Jim Rennie, offering little difference between the platforms and, therefore, voters’ alternatives. That’s what the Tea Party and the increasing ranks of moderates and independents without political party affiliation are all about. If it’s not what Under the Dome is all about, let’s hope that, in his next novel, King is sadder but wiser in the ways of the world.
News reaches Rusty from the hospital: both Big Jim, suffering from arrhythmia, and Junior, diagnosed with having a possible brain tumor, have been admitted to the medical facility. On their way back to Chester’s Mill from Black Ridge, Rusty swear his companions to silence concerning his discovery of the dome generator.
Rose Twitchell takes sandwiches to Barbie and, despite Melvin Searles’ presence, Barbie succeeds in relaying a message to his former employer: “Tell her [Deputy Jackie Wettington, who plans to break Barbie out of jail] I said you’re all right” (747), meaning that it’s all right for Jackie to share her secrets with Rose.
Andy Sanders and The Chef smoke methamphetamine while the latter lectures the former, based upon a wild interpretation of the book of Revelation., concerning their roles as “Christian soldiers” in the apocalypse that is to come on Halloween, if not earlier. Both men also vow never to let Big Jim and his cronies shut down their meth lab, as Big Jim has said he will do to get “rid of the evidence” of his illegal operation ((751).
As Barbie was drafted back into the Army as a colonel by presidential order, so is Deputy Jackie Wettington, a former sergeant, who’s been “stop-lossed” and assigned the “twofold” mission of rescuing Barbie from jail and of ousting Big Jim from his office as selectman-become-dictator. King loses this section of his novel by setting the stage for future developments involving a conflict between Barbie and Wettington and their followers and Big Jim and his camp. With Halloween coming early, perhaps, to Chester’s Mill and Rusty Everett’s discovery of the dome generator, things are likely to be lively, despite a relatively passive protagonist, Big Jim’s arrhythmia, and Junior’s glioma. After all, the reader has been warned, “that dead band song” is about to “play.”