The Long Walk

Topics: Stephen King, Richard Bachman, The Long Walk Pages: 11 (1692 words) Published: February 23, 2014
The Long Walk
By Stephen King

Early on in his career, between 1977 and 1984, Stephen King published five

novels under the pseudonym of Richard Bachman. The second, The Long Walk, was

released in 1979 as a follow-up to the success of “Bachman’s” first novel, Rage. King

originally wrote The Long Walk in the fall of 1966 and the spring of 1967, while a

freshman at the University of Maine. Submitting it to the Bennett Cerf/Random House

first-novel competition in 1967 it was unceremoniously rejected, and King shelved the

novel. To understand this story one would need to understand the author himself. As his

first completed novel, this story possesses several sub-texts of perseverance, human

spirit, and an ultimate fear of failure that seems to reflect something personal. Set in a

dystopian present the plot, in itself, is simple. In a totalitarian version of the United States

an annual contest is held where 100 boys compete. Walking, without being allowed to

stop and accompanied by armed soldiers, until only one is left alive.

In the introduction ‘Why I Was Bachman’ (King, 1985, p.X) to the omnibus

collection of four of these novels, King speaks of The Long Walk as ‘full of windy

psychological preachments (both textual and sub textual)’. But as a new aspiring novelist,

the core of the story reflects King’s fears of the future and the uncertainties of success. Its

protagonist is that of Ray Garraty, a 16-year-old who often acts on instinct, and doesn’t

seem to understand his motivations, or himself, very well. His motives for volunteering,

rather than being picked at random, remain unknown throughout the story. He is quickly

revealed to be an engaging and friendly person that easily makes acquaintances.

However, these uneasy friendships are quickly strained with thoughts of their

impending futures. Preparing to embark on a career in such a competitive field, the theme

of ‘outlast everyone’ can be seen as both King’s determination and uncertainties with his

own future. It can also have more personal ties to the environment of the post-Vietnam

era. The world’s socio-political balance was uncertain, and had an extreme impact on

peoples concept of mortality. This character seems to be reminiscent of what King must

have felt, starting a career that included the competition of many established literary

giants, some of them his greatest influences. The theme of perseverance, or ultimate loss

upon failure, is essential to the story and a precursor to the commitment that King has

displayed throughout his life and career.

As the story unfolds, it is revealed that the world in which this contest takes place

is that of a post-world war landscape dominated by a military regime. Written in the

aftermath of Vietnam, the parallels can be drawn to the authors vision of a world that

progressed in a different way than ours. Embodied in the physical antagonist, The Major,

as an enigmatic character that controls this life-or-death contest, and described by

Garraty’s father as “the rarest and most dangerous monster any nation can produce, a

society-supported sociopath.” (King, 1979, p.6). The Major, while not having much of a

physical presence within the story, mirrors the concerns of a society that was plagued by

the constant turbulences of war. The increasing domination and involvement of world-

wide governments in the personal affairs of their citizens was an overwhelming concern

at that time. The contestants, or The Walkers, express loathing of The Major for the

situation they are in but simultaneously cheer him whenever present. This shows the

animosity of society against war while struggling with the feelings of patriotism.

Garraty’s mother, pleading with him to back out, receives only this in response ‘"The

Major would-" Garraty began, and saw his mother wince. "You...


Bibliography: /1970 's/1978/The%20Long%20Walk%20-%201978.pdf (Original work published 1979)
Stephen King (2013) Retrieved December 17, 2013, from
http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Stephen_King
StephenKing.com (2013) various sections Retrieved from http://www.stephenking.com/index.html
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