Literature Study GuidesThe ShiningPart 1 Chapter 1 Summary

The Shining | Study Guide

Stephen King

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The Shining | Part 1, Chapter 1 : Prefatory Matters, Job Interview | Summary



Jack Torrance interviews for a job as the winter caretaker at the Overlook Hotel, a remote resort in Colorado built between 1907 and 1909. Jack instinctively dislikes the hotel manager, Stuart Ullman, and the feeling is mutual. Ullman describes the hotel's layout and notes it has hosted presidents and millionaire moguls in its nearly 70-year history under a variety of owners. The winter caretaker must heat the many hotel rooms so the pipes won't freeze, keep the boiler from overheating, and perform small repairs so the winter weather doesn't cause excessive damage. When the first snows come, the Overlook is essentially cut off from the rest of the world.

Ullman has doubts about hiring Jack because of an incident with a former caretaker. In the winter of 1970–71, caretaker Delbert Grady was driven mad by the solitude of the job and murdered his wife and two daughters with an axe. Given this grisly episode, Ullman would prefer to hire an unmarried man—and one without Jack's history of alcoholism and violent behavior. Jack was fired from his previous job teaching at a Vermont prep school because he "lost [his] temper." Jack's friend Al Shockley, a stakeholder in the hotel, has set up the job as a favor to him; he thinks Jack's family will keep him from getting too lonely. Jack assures Ullman his erratic behavior is in the past and says he plans to finish writing a play over the winter. He tells Ullman he and his family can entertain themselves with books and other pursuits. Ullman reluctantly offers Jack the job to appease his boss.


The first chapter of The Shining sets up most of the conflicts that will drive the rest of the story. Jack resents Stuart Ullman from their first meeting, but he tries to play nice and agrees to fulfill the job's obligations. This same pattern will play out later when Jack is in thrall to the Overlook. He will have periods of resentment and fear ultimately outweighed by his sense of obligation to his employer—which turns out to be the hotel itself rather than the figureheads of Ullman or even Al Shockley.

Ullman's description of the hotel and of the Delbert Grady incident only hint at the massive scope and size of the Overlook and the crushing isolation of the place in winter. At this point the story of Delbert Grady is an abstract horror. Even Ullman largely views Grady's actions in terms of how they will affect the hotel's reputation. Ullman wasn't there when the murders took place and likely only supervised the cleanup. His cold interest in the hotel's reputation allows him to consider Jack's candidacy objectively. But he is swayed to hire Jack by pressure from Al Shockley; he also thinks because Jack is better educated than Delbert Grady, he will be better able to entertain himself—and thus will be less likely to go mad—during the long winter.

The Grady incident is even more of an abstraction for Jack, to whom the story is only hearsay. Jack doesn't think critically about his own weaknesses and how the isolation of winter in the Overlook might affect him and his family. He is desperate for this job in the wake of his previous firing, so he is all too willing to gloss over the possible problems. Already the Overlook is exploiting Jack's weakness to bring him into its service.

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