Literature Study GuidesThe ShiningPart 1 Chapter 3 Summary

The Shining | Study Guide

Stephen King

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The Shining | Part 1, Chapter 3 : Prefatory Matters, Watson | Summary



While Watson, grandson of the Overlook's founder and current maintenance chief, shows Jack the boiler room and furnace, Jack remembers the night he "lost [his] temper" with Danny. Jack discovers Danny in his study with Jack's papers and books, including the manuscript for his play, scattered on the floor and drenched in a beer Danny has opened to "see it foam." Jack grabs Danny's arm to make him drop an eraser and pencil, turning him roughly to spank him. Danny's arm snaps under the pressure. Back in the boiler room Watson points out the pressure gauge on the hotel boiler explains how to open "the ducks" to heat the different wings of the hotel. He also explains how the boiler pressure "creeps" and needs the valve opened "twice a day and once at night." Watson says, "this whole place is gonna go sky-high someday" because Ullman won't replace the old boiler.

The tour continues through a room stacked with newspapers and boxes of old records and receipts. Watson shows Jack how to keep the elevator running and the plumbing schematics. The two men gossip about the former caretaker who killed his family, Delbert Grady, and Watson shrugs off the incident as one of the many scandals typical of large hotels. He says, "It's like some people just come here to throw up and they hire a guy like Ullman to clean up the messes." Watson relates the tale of a 60-year-old woman who recently visited the hotel with a much younger lover. When the lover leaves her at the hotel, the woman commits suicide in the bathtub of her room, her body discovered by a chambermaid. Watson estimates 40 or 50 people have died in the hotel since it opened in 1910. As Watson continues the tour, Jack thinks of the darkness in the basement and how the solitude must have gotten to Grady. "He shouldn't have been here. And he shouldn't have lost his temper."


The details of Jack's assault on Danny do not paint Jack in a favorable light. Danny's destruction of Jack's office papers is typical toddler behavior. Drink makes Jack overreact and lose control of himself. His frustration at losing pages of his work—in the days before word processors the soaked pages must be retyped—is understandable. His decision to put hands on his son while in such a state of frustration is not understandable or excusable. As the adult, Jack should be able to rise above his anger. As an alcoholic, Jack can't rise above. Even though Jack remembers his own lost temper, he judges the story of Delbert Grady harshly, thinking Grady should not have been at the hotel in the first place. This is exactly what Stuart Ullman thinks of Jack because Ullman is an objective observer. Even as Jack judges Grady, he fails to see the similarities between Grady and himself. On the contrary, Jack uses Grady's story to tell himself he will do better.

Watson's explanation of the boiler's workings is the first foreshadowing of the explosion in The Shining's climax. He criticizes Ullman for refusing to buy a new one, even though he knows this boiler is dangerous, and his comment about the place blowing "sky-high" is on the nose. On close examination, Watson's instructions about the boiler also hint the Overlook can take care of itself. Grady killed his family during a previous winter along with himself. Even if this incident took place shortly before Opening Day, the boiler needs pressure released multiple times a day to keep from exploding. But even without a caretaker the boiler doesn't explode, suggesting other forces are at work in the Overlook.

Watson speculates about these forces, talking casually about the hotel's history of deaths and ghosts. As a veteran hotel worker, he considers scandals and hauntings inherent to the business. He mildly resents the wealthy guests who enact their personal dramas in hotels and leave others to clean up the mess. This resentment may stem from envy; Watson's grandfather built the Overlook, and the Watson family's fortunes have declined considerably since.

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