Copyright 2010 by Gary L. Pullman
Some time ago, Stephen King announced that he wishes he’d written William Golding’s Lord of the Flies. In a sense, with Under the Dome, he has written a sequel of sorts to Golding’s novel.
In King’s book, though, it’s not preteens who have been cut off from the rest of society and must fend for themselves against nature (and one another), but adults.
Once the mysterious dome descends that cuts off Chester’s Mill, Maine, from the rest of the US of A, King fairly quickly suggests that his story will concern what happens to a community that is set adrift from the moorings of larger society and the larger society‘s social infrastructure and cultural underpinnings--when, in effect, to some extent, at least, such a community reverts to humanity’s natural state.
On their own, will the townspeople embody Jean Jacques-Rousseau’s idea of the noble savage, or just the savage part?
Not long after the town is isolated, the chief of police is killed when he investigates the invisible barrier that separates Chester’s Mill from the rest of the world, and Assistant Chief Peter Randolph, a lackey of the corrupt second selectman, Big Jim Rennie, assumes command of the town’s police force, deputizing, at Big Jim’s insistence, a trio of the local town’s former high school football players, one of whom is the selectman’s own son, the brutal and sadistic Junior, who’s already murdered two women, Angie McCain and Dodee Sanders.
Unknown to the townspeople themselves, political corruption has been festering in Chester’s Mill for some time. In fact, as Brenda, discovers, her late husband, Police Chief Howard (“Duke”) Perkins was investigating Big Jim’s participation in both the “misappropriation of town goods and services” and the “manufacture and sale of illegal drugs” at the time of his own untimely demise.
Evil is afoot in the town, but, now, following the death of the chief of police, there seems to be no one to check the machinations of Big Jim, especially since he has taken advantage of the crisis to beef up the local constabulary with young men, his own son, included, who are apt to support him.
Many others in town also owe favors to the second selectman. For example, when former Army captain and current short-order cook Dale (“Barbie”) Barbara hopes to enlist Al Timmons, “the Town Hall janitor,” who dines regularly at the restaurant at which Barbie works, to help him liberate the Geiger counter in the town hall’s fallout shelter, the local newspaper owner and editor, Julia Shumway, informs Barbie that Rennie has given “Al a personal no-interest loan to send Al’s youngest son” to college in Alabama, just as Big Jim “holds the papers on Al Fisher’s plow.” Big Jim has used his ill-gotten gains to make members of the community beholden to him, solidifying his power and influence both as a selectman and as a personal benefactor to his constituents.
Without the honorable Chief Perkins to keep Big Jim in check, the reader can expect some Lord of the Flies-type tyranny to unfold soon in the isolated community, wherein the rule of law may be expected to give way to the rule of the survival of the fittest.
It’s just a matter, perhaps, of what is the fittest--unbridled savagery or enlightened self-interest exercised in a spirit of mutual respect on the part of each citizen for the other. The political, social, and moral issues that King’s novel explores are themes of depth and breadth sufficient for the 1,074-page tome.
The first hint of trouble occurs as Barbie and Julia discuss enlisting Brenda’s aid in securing the Geiger counter. As Chief Perkins’ widow, she would have the keys that her husband was provided, keys that grant access to the government buildings throughout Chester’s Mill, including the town hall and its fallout shelter, and, Julia says, Brenda “has no love for James Rennie” and “can keep a secret” (184). During their discussion, they hear “a hollow metallic bang and a yelp of pain. . . . followed by a cries of protest,” and Barbie thinks, “It begins right now.” He corrects himself, though: “He knew that wasn’t true--it had begun yesterday, when the Dome came down. . .” (185).
It’s not long after Junior Rennie is deputized that the sadistic youth’s violence explodes. The town council prohibits the sale of alcoholic beverages during the time they are cut off from the rest of society by the presence of the dome, but the town drunk, “Sloppy” Sam Verdreaux, won’t take the “no” of the proprietor of Mill Gas & Grocery for an answer, despite the presence of Deputy Freddy Denton and Special Deputy Rennie. Junior handles the situation by hustling Sloppy Sam out of the store and down the steps, where he runs him headfirst into a parked van, leaving his victim with a lacerated scalp. When Sloppy Sam vows to sue the city for “police brutality,” predicting a win, Junior brings him up short, reminding the drunk that “The courthouse is in Castle Rock, and from what I hear, the road going there is closed” (190).
The town is cut off, not only from the greater society of the country, but from recourse to the laws of the land. It is at the mercy of the local authorities, including the likes of Junior Rennie--a chilling thought, to be sure. Junior loses no time in driving home this point to the small crowd of witnesses that has assembled at the scene:
“He is being arrested for violating the new no-alcohol rule, instituted by Chief Randolph. Take a good look!” Freddy shook Sam. Blood flew from Sam’s face and filthy hair. “We’ve got a crisis situation here, folks, but there’s a new sheriff in town, and he intends to handle it. Get used to it, deal with it, learn to love it. That’s my advice. Follow it, and I’m sure we’ll get through this situation just fine. Go against it, and. . . “ He pointed to Sam’s hands, plasticuffed behind him (190).Under the Dome’s parallels to Lord of the Flies don’t appear to be accidental or coincidental. In fact, in case any of his readers missed the covert association with Golding’s novel, King himself makes the comparison overt:
. . . Benny said, “Until this. . . [crisis] ends, the cops can do pretty much what they want.”What begins to happen in Chester’s Mill begins with the weakest, most helpless, disenfranchised individuals, but, it seems safe to say, the same abusive tactics that have been used against Sloppy Sam Verdreaux eventually will be used against others with more clout, more influence, and more money as the “crisis situation” continues.
That was true, Joe reflected. And the new cops weren’t particularly nice guys. Junior Rennie, for example. The story of Sloppy Sam’s arrest was already making the rounds.
“What are you saying?” Norrie asked Benny.
“Nothing right now. It’s still cool right now.” He considered. “Fairly cool. But if this goes on. . . Remember Lord of the Flies?”. . . (223)
But there may be more disturbing parallels than those between King’s novel and Golding’s book--real-life, real-world parallels.
President Barack Obama’s call for an elite federal police force that is as well equipped as the military and his chief of staff Rahm Emmanuel’s comment that the president’s administration should not let a crisis go to waste (“and what I mean by that is an opportunity to do things you think you could not do before”) have eerie parallels, on a national--and real--level to the imaginary happenings inside the isolated community of King’s Chester’s Mill, Maine, and, indeed, to those which take place in Golding’s novel.
If we missed the message concerning the evils of anarchy and tyranny conveyed by Lord of the Flies, maybe we can learn, from the example of Under the Dome’s Chester’s Mill, what’s in store for us under Obama’s administration, unless the “crisis situation” in Washington changes this November.
In addition to exploring the effects of social isolation, potential anarchy, tyranny, exploitative capitalism, true religious faith, and the cooperative interaction of the beleaguered community, King also wants his novel to be about ecology and the potentially catastrophic effects that dependence on oil, reckless pollution of the environment, and arrogant disregard for the welfare of the planet may create.
He works this thematic thread into the story by referencing the need to conserve the propane gas that powers the stoves and other equipment inside Sweetbriar Rose, a restaurant which, owned by Rose Twitchell, employs several of the town’s residents, including Dale Barbara, and the foolishness of motorists who refuse to conserve their fuel, even despite the descent of the dome. After the accident that costs Rory Dinsmore one of his eyes, the police shut down the protests against the government and the churches’ meetings at the field day, and the townspeople return to their homes and shops:
Those with cars got into them. They all tried to drive away at the same time.If the addition of yet another theme seems a bit much, even for a 1,074-page novel, one should give King the chance to dovetail his environmental concerns with those regarding the effects of social isolation, potential anarchy, tyranny, exploitative capitalism, true religious faith, and what it takes to win against the monster. Under the Dome, after all, is a large novel, with plenty of room, and one which invites, by King himself, comparison to Golding’s Nobel-prize-winning Lord of the Flies.
Predictable, Joe McClatchey thought. Totally predictable.
Most of the cops worked to unclog the resulting traffic jam. . . .
Benny said, “Look at those idiots. How many gallons of gas do you think they’re blowing out their tailpipes? Like they think the supply’s endless” (222).