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The Shining | Motifs


"The Masque of the Red Death"

Before the start of Part 1, King provides a passage from American writer Edgar Allan Poe's short story "The Masque of the Red Death." The story recounts the demise of a group of medieval nobles who retreat to an isolated castle to avoid a plague raging through the countryside. The Red Death kills quickly, sometimes within half an hour, by inducing profuse bleeding. In their isolated and grand location, the nobles try to evade time's passage and death's inevitability by amusing themselves with a masquerade ball. But ultimately there is no escape. The Red Death infiltrates their stronghold and kills them all.

The passage King cites focuses on the chiming clock in Poe's story. It ticks away the hours of the nobles' lives, and they feel anxious whenever they hear it chime. After the chiming passes, the reveling nobles resume their gaiety. This scenario is echoed in The Shining when wealthy partygoers at the Overlook Hotel wear masks and await the "unmasking" when the clock strikes midnight. Here King harks back to the opening passage by including a quote from Poe's story: "And the Red Death held sway over all."

Like the nobles in Poe's story, the Overlook's denizens believe they can isolate themselves from the problems of common people, including the problem of mortality. But the Overlook offers many of these guests only despair and death. Like Poe's revelers, they cannot lock themselves away from the inevitable.


Danny's visions of the Overlook Hotel, before and after he arrives there, feature a cryptic word: REDRUM. The term is always expressed in capital letters, to emphasize its aggression in Danny's thoughts. Danny doesn't understand what the word means, and neither do his parents when he asks them about it. Only after the snows come and the Overlook truly comes alive does Danny have a vision showing him REDRUM is MURDER spelled backward. This revelation prompts Danny to use his shine to call Dick Hallorann.

The word's reversal indicates Danny cannot cope with the danger he faces. Through Tony, Danny's mind shelters him from information he is not yet ready to receive. The word's reversal reflects the reversal of Danny's life in the Overlook. His father is supposed to be the one who protects him from danger, not the danger itself. The true meaning of REDRUM becomes apparent as Jack's shift from protector to predator becomes complete. The letters' shift from a backward nonsense word to a real word with sinister meaning parallels the shift in Danny's reality.


Weather patterns in The Shining follow the fortunes of the Torrance family. In their early weeks at the Overlook, the Torrances are relatively happy and hopeful. The weather is sunny and unseasonably warm as Danny senses his parents "loving each other." But the promise of coming winter storms always looms in the background of these peaceful days, just as the Overlook's ominous history and murderous intentions hang over the family's happiness. The Torrances are vaguely aware of both the weather and the hotel's eerie atmosphere, but they still feel optimistic. When the snow sets in, the hotel starts its evil machinations, and Danny, Jack, and Wendy's relationships and emotional states deteriorate. As the storm rages outside, the Overlook and Jack rage indoors.

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