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You Lost Your Temper, Jack: Cycles of Abuse in “The Shining”

Illustration for article titled You Lost Your Temper, Jack: Cycles of Abuse in “The Shining”

The Shining is commonly known as Stephen King's masterpiece of supernatural horror. Set in the idyllic Colorado Mountain, the Torrance family faces unspeakable dreadfulness while the patriarch, Jack, is the winter caretaker at the Overlook Hotel in Colorado. Another interpretation of this novel can be one of cycles of abuse.


John "Jack" Torrance is mildly accomplished writer. Jack Torrance is also an alcoholic. When interviewing with Stuart Ullman, the Overlook's caretaker, Jack makes sure to tell Ullman that he is in recovery. Alcohol abuse had caused much chaos in Jack's life. The first instance was after a piece of Jack's writing had been published in Esquire. After a night of raucous drinking, Jack drops his infant son, Danny, after arriving home in the wee hours of the morning. This is not Jack's rock bottom. Jack also is involved in awful car wreck while driving drunk with drinking pal Al Shockley, (who incidentally on the Board of Directors at the Overlook and gets Jack the position as winter caretaker there) potentially injuring or killing a young person on a bike. Al and Jack don't stop the car to observe the damage. They keep on driving home. Jack's rock bottom is when he seriously injures his son Danny as a result of his drinking and his rage. Danny, then age three, had ransacked Jack's office and poured beer all over a manuscript of Jack's. From Jack's perspective:

"He had been drinking a beer and doing the Act II corrections when Wendy said the phone was for him, and Danny had poured the can of beer all over the pages…He stepped deliberately towards his three-year old son, who was looking up with him with that pleased grin…he had grabbed Danny's hand and bent it to make him drop the typewriter eraser and the mechanical pencil he was clenching in it. Danny had cried out a little…no…no…to tell the truth…he screamed. It was hard to remember through the fog of anger, the sick single thump of that one Spike Jones chord. Wendy somewhere, asking what was wrong. Her voice faint….He had whirled Danny Around to spank him, his big adult fingers digging into the scant meat of the boy's forearm, meeting around it a closed fist, and the sound of the breaking bone had not been loud, not loud but it had been very loud, HUGE, but not loud."

Although Jack is sober, he constantly yearns to imbibe. Jack's internal monologue is often sprinkled with yearning for alcohol. Sentences like this:

"Dear God, he could use a drink. Or a thousand of them."

Are constantly found in the chapters from Jack's perspective. The supernatural malevolent energy in the Overlook knows that Jack is constantly thinking about alcohol, and uses Jack's addiction to its advantage. After Jack has a nasty spat with Wendy, the hotel creates a lively party to bend Jack to its will, complete with an open bar and a cordial bartender. At first, Jack resists.

"The juniper fumes of gin were pleasantly maddening, but they also seemed to be blurring his reason….And what was he doing at the bar with a drink in his hand?"


Although Jack hesitates, like every individual suffering from addiction, his brain chemistry has changed. He cannot help but succumb to the gin's siren call.

"Jack brought the drink to his mouth and downed in in three long gulps…"

The hotel, in a quest to absorb the psychic energy of Jack's son, Danny, gives no quarter in its assault on Jack.

Jack also has a history of resorting to physical violence when upset. Jack comes from an abusive home, and memories of his Father (who was also an alcoholic) telling his Mother "Come here and take your medicine," before beating her violently with his cane. This cycle of abuse continues with Jack. The most evident example of this is when Jack was a teacher at an elite preparatory school in Vermont. A student, George Hatfield, was extremely embarrassed when Jack cut him from the debate team because of his stutter. George, convinced that he does not stutter, and that Jack set the timer ahead, is inconsolable. In the conversation regarding George's elimination from the team, Jack is exceedingly harsh.

"Law isn't like soccer. Two hours of practice every night won't cut it. What are you going to do, stand up in front of a board meeting and say, 'Nuh-nuh-now, g-gentleman, about this t-t-ort?"

Although Jack is instantly filled with shame at his cruelty to this adolescent seventeen year old boy, the trigger has been pulled; the words have been said. As retribution for being cut from the team and the humiliation, George slices Jack's tires. Jack, upon catching George in the act and seeing the damage done to his vehicle, once again becomes overwhelmed by rage. Jack beats George severely, after telling him "Come here and take your medicine," echoing his Father.


Jack's wife, Winnifred, (though she goes by her nickname Wendy) also has a history of violence in her family. Wendy is extremely sensitive to the abuse all around her, even noting the drinking and fights of the couple that live upstairs from her and her family in the first chapter of the novel. Wendy acknowledges that her marriage is hanging by a thread, and that her husband has a history of abusive behavior. When her son, Danny, questions her as to why they left Vermont to head to Colorado, Wendy explains:

"'Your daddy…sometimes he does things he's sorry for later. Sometimes he doesn't think the way he should. That doesn't happen very often, but sometimes it does.'

'Did he hurt George Haffield like the time I spilled all his papers?'


(Danny with his arm in a cast)

-he does things he's sorry for later."

Musing to herself, Wendy elaborates further:

"Her husband was a lush, He had a bad temper, one he could no longer keep wholly under control now that he was drinking so heavily and his writing was going so badly."

Like Jack, Wendy had an abusive parent. In Wendy's case, that parent was her mother. Although her Mother was not physically abusive, Wendy's Mother was verbally abusive and had extreme narcissistic tendencies. Ironically, Jack initially helps Wendy break free from her maternal abuser. Wendy remembers:

"That fall she had finally managed to break from her mother, Jack had helped her. She wants to keep beating you, Jack had said, The more times you phone her, the more times you crawl back begging forgiveness, the more she can beat you with your father. It's good for her, Wendy, because she can go on making believe it was your fault. But it's not good for you."


Wendy, breaking free from one abuser (her Mother), had run into the arms of another (Jack). Wendy mulls over divorce, but remains in the marriage once Jack promises her to remain sober. Wendy, like many victims of abuse, remains in her relationship because of her conflicting emotions she has for Jack.

The Shining, when viewed at face value, is a masterpiece of horror. That being said, if the reader spends time in Room 217, they will also find that The Shining is a guttural depiction of numerous cycles of abuse. Whether in the form of a roque mallet, a bottle, or a fist, abuse is much more terrifying than any supernatural conjuring the Overlook Hotel can muster and is much more real.

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