Following the riot at Food Town, in which most of the injured are the police themselves, including several of the special deputies who raped Samantha Bushey, Brenda Perkins tries to put into effect the plan to blackmail Big Jim Rennie so as to thwart the selectman’s attempt to jail Colonel Dale (“Barbie”) Barbara on one trumped-up charge or another.
Unfortunately, since neither Julia Shumway, the owner and editor of the local newspaper nor Romeo Burpie, the owner of the largest independent department store in America, are home when she comes to call upon them to hide the incriminating documents that her late husband, former police chief Howard (“Duke”) Perkins had compiled against Big Jim, she entrusts them to Third Selectman Andrea Grinnell. Attempting to kick her addiction to pain pills cold turkey, Andrea is in no shape to deal with such a responsibility. Soon after accepting the documents and agreeing to conceal them, Andrea passes out; when she awakens, she doesn’t remember Andrea’s visiting her.
For her own part, Brenda has hidden the laptop computer upon which her late husband had saved the original, electronic files inside her home safe, and, against the advice of Barbie, she decides to confront Big Jim by herself, accusing him of manufacturing and distributing methamphetamine. For her trouble, she receives death at the murderous hands of Big Jim.
Her belief that “Big Jim would” not “actually hurt her” is, the omniscient narrator points out, in a bit of the foreshadowing with which King’s novel is replete, “a dreadful miscalculation on her part, but understandable; she wasn’t the only one who clung to the notion that the world was as it had been before the Dome came down,” (488) a sentiment that echoes politicians’ own insistence that post-9/11 America is forever different than pre-9/11 America and that, as a result, changes have to be made and personal freedoms must be lost--for the good of the country, of course, just as everything that Big Jim does is (according to him) for the good of the town he governs.
Such a “miscalculation” has dire consequences for Brenda, as it may for Americans in general who, it appears, live “under the dome” of environmental terrorism (and political terrorism): “Brenda Perkins heard a bitter crack, like the breaking of a branch overloaded with ice, and followed the sound into a great darkness, trying to call her husband’s name as she went” (495). She is a damsel in distress, to be sure, but she is one without a rescuer or a defender.
The reader hopes that her fate doesn’t parallel Americans’ own, especially given the numerous parallels that King’s novel draws between current events in the United States (and around the world) and the incidents that occur in his massive story. As always, King’s work is something of a cautionary tale concerning real-world situations and events, many of the latest ones of our own devise. “It may well be doubted whether human ingenuity can construct an enigma,” Edgar Allan Poe, in a technologically and politically less complicated time declared, “which human ingenuity may not, by proper application, resolve.” Let’s hope that the master of the macabre was right.
Under the Dome appears to offer a turning point in King’s understanding of politics, morality, and group dynamics. It seems to be a watershed novel, in which the author deepens and broadens his understanding of the complexities of civilization, culture, and society, no longer assuming the existence of simplistic dualities of Democrat vs. Republican, adult vs. child, or other forms of us vs. them. Watching current events from the relative safety of the Florida Keys seems to have taught him quite a bit about life during the time, “November 22, 2007-March 14, 2009,” that he wrote his latest novel. He’s a better storyteller because of his maturation, because he offers a more balanced perspective concerning the themes he takes up in this volume.
One of the themes of Under the Dome, common to many of King’s novels, is that it takes a village (or at least a group) to defeat the monster. In fact, one of the sections of Under the Dome has as its title “We All Support the Team.” Of course, in a contest, athletic or otherwise, one team must compete against another. In his early novels, the two teams were often heroic children (teens or preteens) and either corrupt, indifferent, or incompetent, usually unaware, adults. It was, consequently, the children who led the way and, usually, the children who defeated the monster.
There is a bit of this thinking in Under the Dome as well, as this exchange between Norrie Calvert, Joe McClatchey, and Benny Drake, who are smoking stolen cigarettes under Peace Bridge, when Norrie spots Brenda Perkins (whose death was recounted ea a couple of pages back but who is, courtesy of the miracle of the flashback, alive and well at the moment and approaching the children’s hideaway):
“Let’s get going,” Benny said.
“We can’t get going until she’s gone,” Norrie said.
Benny shrugged. “What’s the big deal? If she sees us, we’re just some kids goofing around the town common. And know what? She probably wouldn’t see us if she looked right at us. Adults never see kids.” He considered this. “Unless they’re on skateboards.”
“Or smoking,” Norrie added (502).
However, some adults are not only aware of children but also entrust them to accomplish vitally important tasks. Julia Shumway has convinced Joe’s mother to allow him and his friends to deliver a “gadget” that Barbie considers vital to their cause.
In general, in this matter, King appears to have matured as both a thinker and a writer, no longer dividing his fictional worlds into an “us“ against “them,” black-or-white dichotomy of innocence and experience, righteousness and evil, heroes and villains. Instead of an us-children against them-adults, he posits two teams of adults (or four, if one takes Big Jim’s view that “ants,” “grasshoppers,” and “locusts” make up the population of Chester’s Mill: on one side, the team of Dale Barbara, Julia Shumway, the late police chief Howard Perkins and his recently murdered widow Brenda, Romeo Burpie, and others, standing against the team of Big Jim Rennie, Andy Sanders, Pete Randolph, Junior Rennie, the late Lester Coggins, and their followers.
Big Jim explains the situation to Lester, just before killing him:
“Every town has its ants--which is good--and its grasshoppers, which aren’t so good but we can live with them because we understand them and we can make them do what’s in their own best interests, even if we have to squeeze em a little. But every town also has its locusts, just like in the Bible, and that’s what people like the Busheys are. On them we’ve got to bring the hammer down. . . “ (260).
The reader must take Big Jim’s analysis with a grain of salt, perhaps, because, obviously, he is the most corrupt of all the characters in Chester’s Mill. The context of the novel allows one to identify the groups named by Big Jim: the ants are the productive citizens, the hardworking blue-collar folks who produce the goods and provide the services that keeps the town’s economy humming; the grasshoppers are the merchants, entrepreneurs, and financiers who control and regulate the means of production, including human resources, profiting from the goods and services that the working class create; and the locusts are the poor and needy, often emotionally damaged, sometimes drug-addicted or alcoholic citizens who deplete the town’s treasury. In Machiavelli’s terms, the ants and the locusts are the masses; the business owners, the aristocrats; and the governing party (unmentioned by Big Jim except as “we”) are the monarch and his royal “family” and patrons.
Jimi Hendrix, or King’s quotation of the late musician, provides the perspective of Barbie’s team: “When the power of love becomes stronger than the love of power, the earth will know peace.” Barbie, Julia, and Romeo, like Howard and Brenda Perkins, act out of a true concern for justice, liberty, and respect for one’s fellow, all of which values stem, ultimately, from love (for if one has not love for oneself and one’s neighbor, neither justice, liberty, nor respect is likely to be considered of any importance; rather, one is more likely to operate according to the principles of Big Jim and his cronies.)
Big Jim’s understanding of the motivation of high school girls’ basketball clarifies the values he and his team members hold even more than his brief speech to Lester Coggins concerning ants, grasshoppers, and locusts. Big Jim is attracted to girls’ basketball because “young female players are invested in a team ethic that the boys,” being more interested in showing off their skills as individual players, “rarely match” (445). Because of this devotion, “The girls took the sport personally, and that made them better haters,” the omniscient narrator asserts, explaining that they “loathed losing. They took loss back to the locker room and brooded over it. More importantly, they loathed and hated it as a team. Big Jim often saw that hare rear its head. . . .” (446). (One need only recall Georgia Roux cheering on the town’s special deputies as they beat and raped Samantha Bushey to understand what King is describing; bullies often delight in their power to inflict pain and suffering on others and tend to band together as a pack, or “team,” against lone individuals. Corrupt politicians, King seems to suggest, are no different.)
A season-ticket holder, Big Jim frequently attends these games, and, in the process, he has chosen a champion worthy of his admiration:
Before 2004, the Lady Wildcats had made the state tournament only once in twenty years, that appearance a one-and-done affair against Buckfield. Then had come Hanna Compton. The greatest hater of all time, in Big Jim’s opinion. . . .
. . . Hanna had taken the game over with the single-minded brutality of Joseph Stalin taking over Russia, her black eyes glittering (and seemingly fixed upon some basketball Nirvana beyond the sight of normal mortals), her face locked in that eternal sneer that said, I’m better than you, I’m the best, get out of my way or I’ll run you. . . down. . . ( 446-447).
In his portrait of Hanna, whom Big Jim admires as the athlete par excellence, because of the girl’s “out-of-my face ‘tude” no less than for her amazing athletic prowess, King highlights the girl’s arrogance (“I’m better than you, I’m the best, get out of my way or I’ll run you. . . down”) as the key energizing element in her personality; it is this arrogance, or pride, that fuels both her hatred and her drive, and it is one that, sharing with her, Big Jim recognizes and respects. However, as a self-avowed Christian (a confession open to serious doubt), Big Jim should heed the Bible’s declaration that “pride goeth before a fall.”