In this paper, Im going to take a formalist approach to look at language, tone and structure of Suffer the Little Children by Stephen King. This story is not just about a particular teacher or a particular student; it is more about a disturbed lady's state of mind, and my work will give emphasis to the characterization the author uses through the text. The first thing I would like to talk about is Kings use of language in this story. He begins by describing Miss Sidley as a small, constantly suffering, gimlet-eyed woman. He also mentioned that she knows she is getting old, and the word Miss before her name allowed us to know that she is not married. She is an unhappy woman.
We can gather what kind of person she is from her reference to the children as monsters, bitches, evils, who have nasty little games. The diction of the story emphasizes wickedness. King uses metaphors, and almost every one of them suggests a likeness with something evil, taking for example the giggling, like the laughter of demons... or they were ringed in a tight little circle, like mourners around an open grave. Irony also exists in this story. Sidley seems to be the ideal teacher, who is efficient at her job and knows how to keep her students quite in class, when actually she is the one who has a disturbing behavior and ends up surprising her colleague in school when she is found about to kill one more child. King also used an interesting style to introduce a new character to the story: Buddy Jenkins was his name, psychiatry was his game.
As soon as we read it, we immediately know he will have a destiny such as Sidley because that was exactly the way she was introduced (Miss Sidley was her name, teaching was her game). The writer also uses italic writing to emphasize the teachers thoughts. However, the presence of one or two loose words in the middle of sentences will contribute to cause an eye effect, to catch the readers attention to those words, such as admit, change and she. King gave this story a dark tone about which there's nothing cheerful. No colors. Anyone who reads the story will be able to see an obscure atmosphere.
I would like to mention that the author uses expressions such as unrestful night and solitary dinner throughout the text, and the word darkness appears many times. Theres nothing pleasing in the playground. The classroom was hushed and sleepy in the late September sun. This line refers to a class of third grade children who are, in the majority of the time, quiet, with frightened faces. The characteristics of Kings work demonstrate tension from the beginning to the end. The structure of the story itself builds up, but the mirror image is building down.
At first, Miss Sidley is in control of the situation: Behind her, none of the children giggled or whispered... , Like God, she seemed to know everything at once. The author compares her to God, which put her in a superior position, as if no one could possibly be above her. But she slowly loses control of herself. It starts when Robert shows he is not afraid of her: instead of looking frightened, he has a tiny side-of-the-mouth smile in his face, that bothers her extremely and leads her to her demise and ultimately her death. Some may see Suffer the Little Children just as an intriguing work of fiction, but in my opinion, it could be a story pulled from the headlines of a newspaper.
The characterization was so well done, that King gives us the illusion that the character could be real; and through analyzing language, tone and structure of the work, we can understand Stephen Kings story in a clear way, contributing to its meaning.