On King, More, and Factory Farms

I just finished Stephen King’s Full Dark, No Stars. It was alright, not the best thing ever, but the first novella, “1922,” is damn near perfect. It hits all the high notes while avoiding most of the low ones.

The interesting thing about it, though, is how it interfaces with factory farming. King is a very liberal writer, and I don’t think it’s surprising to find this kind of opinion in this book. Spoilers about the novella are about to follow, so you should be aware of that.

“1922” follows a farmer named Wilfred Leland James. Through emotional manipulation, he enlists the help of his teenage son in order to kill his wife, Arlette. After that, they stash her in the bottom of a dry well and pretend that she “run off” to be away from the rural farm. The motivation for this crime is that she comes into possession of 100 acres of land that the Farrington Company wants to own. The intersection with factory farming comes from this connection–the Farrington Company is a pig farming and slaughtering corporation, and the land itself is close to highway, railroad, and water, which makes it prime land for the needs of the company. The murder of Arlette, par for a King novel, is brutal. It’s bloody, and I’ll spare you the language, but it is similar to a pig’s slaughter. A cut throat, thrashing around, gurgling and squealing.

So this murder, this slaughter of a human animal, is used to avoid the reality of the hog farm, to avoid “watching pig-guts float down [his] previously clear stream.” King does this work for me–this quote comes from an internal monologue where Wil thinks about the 100 acres becoming his after his wife is declared legally dead.

I can wait. Seven years without smelling pigshit when the wind’s out of the west? Seven years without hearing the screams of dying hogs (so much like the screams of a dying woman) or seeing their intestines float down a creek that’s red with blood? That sounds like an excellent seven years to me. (37)

The image of the dirtied creek is repeated several times, and it makes sense; the industrial world, and its violence, is intruding on the idyllic rural space. There is a reflection of modernity, then, and of its mechanisms, something that John Gray remarks upon: “some of the most successful experiments of modernisation have been in countries that have grafted new technology onto their indigenous cultures.” While Gray is talking about contemporary emulation of Europe, it applies just as easily to Wil James–he “grafts” the methods of slaughter into himself in order to distance himself from modernity’s apparatus, even if Wil James does not see it that way.

This is floating around in my head because I just finished Utopia in a class that I’m taking, and methods of slaughter are at the heart of a section of communal eating.

From thence the beasts be brought in, killed, and clean washed by the hands of their bondsmen, for they permit not their free citizens to accustom themselves to the killing of beasts, through the use wherof they think clemency, the gentlest affection of our nature, by little and little to decay and perish. (78-9)

For More, the slaughter of animals has to be deferred to slaves, so as to preserve the humanity of the free citizen. It’s complex, but the heart of the idea is effectively the same as King’s: slaughter and killing beget slaughter and killing. Beyond that, maybe the root of violence exists in the first instances of violence against animals. More discusses the hunt at length, and his analysis could just as easily be about war–he likens strategy and intellect as necessary for both.

In any case, for King, even the perception of slaughter can create a fear that degrades, but the seed itself has to be planted. In More’s case, violence in society is avoided when slaughter of animals is avoided. For King, animal slaughter is an infection that creates fear. That fear is justification for nearly anything.

That’s all I have to say about it.

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