Literature Study GuidesThe ShiningPart 3 Chapter 14 Summary

The Shining | Study Guide

Stephen King

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The Shining | Part 3, Chapter 14 : The Wasps' Nest, Up on the Roof | Summary

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Summary

While he is fixing some shingles on the Overlook's roof, a wasp stings Jack. He is grateful the sting doesn't cause him to fall from the roof. While he works he thinks about finishing his play and sending it to his agent in New York. He locates the wasps' nest under a section of the roof and thinks about how he has "unwittingly stuck his hand in The Great Wasps' Nest of Life," which has caused all his misfortunes.

Jack remembers his relationship with George Hatfield, the student he assaulted at Stovington Academy. George was handsome and popular, but his stuttering made him a poor fit for the debate team. George denied he stutters and accused Jack of setting the debate timer ahead to sabotage him because he thought Jack hated him. Jack cut George from the team, and a week later he found George slashing the tires on Jack's car. Jack "had seen red" and remembered few details of the encounter until another teacher intervened. Jack saw George's knife on the ground, a dent in the car's fender, and George lying dazed and bleeding on the ground. Jack denies hating George even now, and thinks, "He had not acted but been acted upon."

Having lost track of time in his memories, Jack goes to the equipment shed to get a bug bomb to kill the wasps. He thinks the empty nest will make a fun gift for Danny. Jack remembers having one in his room when he was a child. As he descends the ladder he thinks the wasps will "pay" for stinging him.

Analysis

Jack's real problem seems to go deeper than alcoholism: he has a near-total inability to accept responsibility for his actions. When a wasp stings him, he turns this seemingly random occurrence into a metaphor for his life. He thinks he can't be held responsible for the harm he has done to others because he is like a man swarmed by wasps, so absorbed in trying to escape them that he loses all reason. Jack isn't specific about what these metaphorical wasps stand for; possibly they symbolize his addictive personality or his abusive childhood. But he considers himself a victim of chance and circumstance, not acting but acted upon.

Seeing himself as a passive participant in his own life allows Jack to absolve himself for nearly knocking George Hatfield unconscious. Jack justifies cutting George from the debate team because of his stutter. George denied he had a stutter, and Jack's perspective does not make him the most reliable source of information. Perhaps George did have a stutter, but the reader has no way of assessing its severity beyond Jack's memory of it. Jack's memory seems unreliable, since he forgets the details of his attack on George. Furthermore Jack denies his hatred for George so often the denials become suspect—even though it's not unusual for students to think their teachers hate them for nebulous reasons. Because Jack believes he has been acted on, the implication is George deserved a beating for vandalizing the car. Certainly punishment of some sort is in order, but the punishment isn't solely Jack's decision.

Jack's reaction to the wasp further calls his version of the George Hatfield incident into question. Jack wants to make all the wasps pay for his sting. He wants revenge on insects for doing what insects do. This indicates a vindictive nature bordering on the pathological, introducing the possibility Jack attacked George because of some undisclosed personal vendetta.

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