Summary Part 1: Avalon
Miss Sidley is an older woman who teaches third grade. Her students fear her, for she can see all that they do. Miss Sidley uses the reflection in her glasses to watch the class whenever her back is turned. It’s as a good as an eye on the back of her head.
Miss Sidley is going over vocabulary words with the children, when she notices a student named Robert, stare at her through the corner of her glasses. Miss Sidley asks Robert to use the next vocabulary word, “tomorrow”, in a sentence. “Tomorrow a bad thing will happen,” Robert says. Then he smiles at Miss Sidley through her glasses, and she is sure that he has caught on with her trick.
Miss Sidley turns back around to continue writing words on the chalkboard. She glimpses at the reflection of her glasses again, and she sees an unpleasant sight. Robert’s face changes. It morphs into something “different”. She spins around quickly to see Robert’s face for herself, hurting her braced back in the process. He appears to look normal. She continues writing on the board for the rest of class, never glancing back at the reflection in her glasses.
On his way out of the classroom, Robert gives Miss Sidley a look that tells her they have a secret. And for the rest of her evening, the look remains on Miss Sidley’s mind. After her dinner, Miss Sidley goes to bed. Before drifting off to sleep, she sees Robert’s face floating. Robert’s face changes again, but before Ms. Sidley can decipher what it looks like, everything goes dark.
Miss Sidley returns to school the next morning with little patience, for she barely slept the night before. The school day seemed to drag, but when her students were finally dismissed, Mr. Hanning approaches Miss Sidley, and he asks her to refill the paper towels in the girls’ restroom.
Summary Part 2: Elijah
A little later in the story she holds Robert back because she is so suspicious of him and she sees him “change “ Into a monster this causes her to completely freak out and run into the hallway screaming, then outside down the steps and right in front of a bus which almost hits her, when she is calmed down by Mr. Henning.
Summary Part 3: Meghana
Miss Sidley was fed up with the children’s secrets, so she decided to take a month off from teaching. When she came back, she was taunted by Robert and the others kids who would laugh and smile secretively together. The next day, she brought a gun to school and told the students that they were taking a test in another room one at a time. She took Robert first to a soundproof room. There he told Miss Sidley that there are more of us, and his features became twisted. She shot him in the head and realized he was still human. She brought in twelve more children before she was eventually caught. She was sent to an asylum where they put her through a therapy where she would take care of some children. She then committed suicide.
The first craft element of “Suffer the Little Children” I looked at was point of view. While reading the story, I was able to pick up on the specific rules Stephen King seemed to follow while he was writing. The entire story maintains a third person point of view. However, even though the POV is in third person, the majority of the story is through Miss Sidley’s perspective. Later on in the story, the perspective shifts to Buddy Jenkins.
The very first sentence of this story (quoted below) introduces to the readers the main character of the tale, and it (sort of) indicates that the story will be told in third person point of view.
Miss Sidley was her name, and teaching was her game.
This sentence shows us the main character (Miss Sidley) by presenting her name and occupation. This doesn’t exactly prove to the readers that Miss Sidley is going to be the main character of the story, but it does show us that she will be significant to the tale.
Also, this sentence refers to Miss Sidley as “her” which would indicate third person point of view. However, for all we know, at this point of the story, it could still be told in first person POV. For example, if “Suffer the Little Children” was to be a story told through first person point of view, the main character/ narrator could just be describing Miss Sidley in this sentence, then switch to “I” and “my” pronouns later on. Though that is not the case, it still remained a valid possibility. But because for the remainder of the story, “she” and “her” pronouns are used, it proves “Suffer the Little Children” to be third person POV.
She whirled around, face white, barely noticing the protesting stab of pain in her back.
Readers can infer that the perspective at this point of the story is Miss Sidley’s. This line helps us know that with the words “barely noticing the protesting stab of pain in her back.” I say this because, if you were to simply watch Miss Sidley turn around, you wouldn’t be able to know her back was in pain unless she were to express it somehow. Here, in this part of the story, Miss Sidley provides no physical indication that her back hurts. But the writer is letting us know that it does by providing us her thoughts.
A “rule” of point of view that I noticed King followed in this writing was using italics to indicate a change from third person POV to first person POV. Throughout the story, there are paragraphs in italic that are written in Miss Sidley’s point of view, like the passages below.
I imagined it, she thought. I was looking for something, and when there was nothing, my mind just made something up. Very cooperative of it.
Stop that! she told herself sternly. You’re acting like a skittish girl just out of teachers’ college!
What was it I saw when he changed? Something bulbous. Something that shimmered. Something that stared at me, yes, stared and grinned and wasn’t a child at all. It was old and it was evil and…
These excerpts are mainly thoughts that Miss Sidley has, but they do use “I” and “my” pronouns which would mean they’re first person.
Towards the end of the story, the perspective appears to change, but third person POV remains relevant. (Shown below).
Buddy Jenkins was his name, psychiatry was his game.
Here, we see that this sentence imitates the story’s first sentence that introduced us to Miss Sidley. It acts like a transition sentence, shifting the perspective from Miss Sidley to Buddy Jenkins. Yes, the POV still remains in third person, but it now shows us Buddy Jenkins’ perspective opposed to Miss Sidley’s by providing us only his inner thoughts from here on out of the story (like the quote shown below). In the story, everything that follows the sentence, “Buddy Jenkins was his name, psychiatry was his game.” no longer includes any insight on Miss Sidley.
For a time Buddy thought she responded well.
And here (quoted below), it shows us Ms. Sidley’s expressions but provides no background information on why she feels this way.
Then she seemed to see something which disturbed her; a frown creased her brow and she looked away from the children.
So it’s like we are seeing her from Buddy Jenkins’ eyes.
In “Suffer the Little Children”, I’d definitely say that there are a lot more summaries than there are scenes. In this story, Stephen King uses summaries to provide background information on Miss Sidley, and he uses them as transitions and time leaps in the story.
They knew Miss Sidley’s deadly instincts too well. Miss Sidley could always tell who was chewing gum at the back of the room, who had a beanshooter in his pocket, who wanted to go to the bathroom to trade baseball cards rather than use the facilities. Like God, she seemed to know everything an at once.
I highlighted part of the second paragraph of “Suffer the Little Children” (shown above), because I viewed it as a summary. According to Janet Burroway’s “Summary and Scene”, part of a summary’s purpose is to “fill in a character’s background”, and I believe these words do just that.
From this passage, one can infer what kind of teacher Miss Sidley is (controlling, observative, fearful, intuitive, strict, etc.). And with that very last sentence, it shows us why the children fear her, but it also says a lot about her character.
She was graying, and the brace she wore to support her failing back was limned clearly against her print dress. Small, constantly suffering, gimleteyed woman. But they feared her. Her tongue was a schoolyard legend. The eyes, when focused on a giggler or a whisperer, could turn the stoutest knees to water.
And it’s the same concept with this paragraph, it provides us with important background information of Miss Sidley’s character.
There are also summaries in this short story that serve as a transition or a leap in time such as the passages below.
Again the day seemed to drag, and she believed she was more relieved than the children when the last bell rang. The children lined up in orderly rows at the door, boys and girls by height, hands dutifully linked.
The papers screamed for one, bereaved parents Swore hysterical oaths against Miss Sidley, and the city sat back on its haunches in numb shock, but in the end, cooler heads prevailed and there was no trial. The State Legislature called for more stringent teacher exams, Summer Street School closed for a week of mourning, and Miss Sidley went quietly to juniper Hill in Augusta. She was put in deep analysis, given the most modem drugs, introduced into daily work-therapy sessions. A year later, under strictly controlled conditions, Miss Sidley was put in an experimental encounter-therapy situation.
The passages quoted below, are paragraphs I highlighted as scenes.
That was when the shadows changed. They seemed to elongate, to flow like dripping tallow, taking on strange hunched shapes that made Miss Sidley cringe back against the porcelain washstands, her heart swelling in her chest.
But they went on giggling.
The voices changed, no longer girlish, now sexless and soulless, and quite, quite evil. A slow, turgid sound of mindless humor that flowed around the corner to her like sewage.
She stared at the hunched shadows and suddenly screamed at them. The scream went on and on, swelling in her head until it attained a pitch of lunacy. And then she fainted. The giggling, like the laughter of demons, followed her down into darkness.
I highlighted these paragraphs as scene because Burroway describes scenes to be significant moments, and they “…deal(s) with a relatively short period of time at length.” This occurrence in the bathroom where Ms. Sidley sees the little girls turn into mysterious, evil figures, is definitely a significant point in the story. I also believe if this situation were happening in real life, it would be at a faster pace. I feel like the part when the children’s shadows morphed to when their voices changed, was written in a pace slower than the pace it would’ve actually taken up in reality. To me, it seems like the writer purposefully slowed this scene down to create imagery and give the reader a more vivid understanding of the events taking place.
His face suddenly ran together like melting wax, the eyes flattening and spreading like knife-struck egg yolks, nose widening and yawning, mouth disappearing. The head elongated, and the hair was suddenly not hair but straggling, twitching growths.
Robert began to chuckle.
The slow, cavernous sound came from what had been his nose, but the nose was eating into the lower half of his face, nostrils meeting and merging into a central blackness like a huge, shouting mouth.
Robert got up, still chuckling, and behind it all she could see the last shattered remains of the other Robert, the real little boy this alien thing had usurped, howling in maniac terror, screeching to be let out. She ran.
She fled screaming down the corridor, and the few late-leaving pupils turned to look at her with large and uncomprehending eyes. Mr Hanning jerked open his door and looked out just as she plunged through the wide glass front doors, a wild, waving scarecrow silhouetted against the bright September sky.
I’d classify these few paragraphs as a scene as well. The first couple of paragraphs are slower and more detailed, leaving the last couple more realistically paced, but I still decided to highlight all of it for scene. I feel as though, even if the last couple of paragraphs weren’t as dramatically paced, that they are still relevant for the scene, because they still illustrate the significant occurrence of Robert’s transformation.
- Why do you think King switches from Miss Sidley’s perspective to Buddy Jenkins’ perspective at the time he does? (Opposed to switching perspectives after Miss Sidley commits suicide?)
- Why does King decide to have the story skip an entire year before illustrating Miss Sidley’s new life in the mental asylum?
This story was thought provoking , and really led me down a path of understanding that I hadn’t really cared to travel before. Stephen King’s use of the different elements in the story really conveyed what was happening, like the use of not the girls themselves but their shadows are what Ms. Sidley sees, and how her descent into maddens feels like a very believable one, because she seconds guesses her self to worrying to having a complete break down over what she believes is happening that you almost feel bad for her in a way. Especially when during the breakdown she feels as if the kids surround her like a noose, and in a sort of way kind of mocking her. I also like how after the break down she doesn’t just show up at school the next day but takes a month long break, which really adds to her humanity and how she is just as troubled as any normal person would be in the situation, but also adds to the double edged sword that is her mental state becoming worse and her losing the ability to distinguish reality from fantasy. The last point is really helped by the perspective the story is written, the degradation and loss of sanity can really be felt and expressed through which words Stephen King used and how he used them. And her mid to final action do not seem out of character at all.
1. Do ms. Sidley’s actions seem unjustified in her own right?
2. Does the setting of the story impact how Ms. Sidley interprets things?
The first aspect that I highlighted was characterization of Miss Sidley. Miss Sidley had her class under a death grip where no one was allowed to breathe. She tolerated no distractions from what she was teaching. The children were very clearly scared of her.
One of her little tricks was the careful use of her glasses. The whole class was reflected in their thick lenses and she had always been thinly amused by their guilty, frightened faces when she caught them at their nasty little games.
This shows that she could watch the children even when she was turned away. It pleases her to scare them, so she has power in the classroom. She is seen as authoritative and doesn’t let anyone see her weaknesses.
She would not have people thinking her insane, or that the first feelers of senility had touched her early.
She didn’t care for what she saw – not a bit. There was a look that hadn’t been there two days before, a frightened, watching look.
Miss Sidley couldn’t let others see the emotional side of her that wavered from time to time. She had to look stronger because her students wouldn’t fear her the same way. This is why she is nervous that Robert knows her secret on how to watch the students. Part of the terror that comes from Miss Sidley is that no one knows how she sees them doing the wrong thing. This gives her character a little more depth. She lives alone, so she has no one to express her feelings to. Bottling up her feelings most likely added to her insanity that showed itself in the end.
Students are afraid of Miss Sidley, and she feeds off this fear. In the first quote, it says that she is “thinly amused by their guilty, frightened faces”. She likes to see that she spreads panic through her class. She makes sure no one is completely comfortable. They all sit on the edge of their seats in anticipation on who she will call on next. She enjoys making them restless and calling their misbehaving out.
She waited, almost hoping for a whisperer, a giggler, perhaps a note-passer.
This is another example of how she is delighted to scold others. Miss Sidley hopes to catch other children. Their sufferings brings joy to her, which makes her even scarier to her students. She clearly doesn’t like being around children. Throughout the story, she complains of how much she despises each one, as if they are cockroaches. Her hatred towards children makes her violent. She doesn’t hesitate or feel any guilt when these hostile thoughts pass through her mind. Her morals are concerning throughout. She has questionable values that lead her to murdering the children. You can see this in her thoughts and actions:
She would shake them. Shake them until their teeth rattled and their giggles turned to wails, she would thump their heads against the tile walls.
He did nothing to warrant the punishment, so she simply accused him falsely. She felt no qualms.
Miss Sidley has pride and structure in her life. She wants success from everyone. She doesn’t want to be pitied, she wants to be respected. She radiates power as a teacher and even to other adults. Miss Sidley rarely shows vulnerability. She wears her strength like a crown and expects only the best from everyone, especially herself.
They reminded her of gamblers unable to leave the tables while they were losing. But she was not losing. She had always been a winner.
She also has rules in her mind that must be followed. She is stubborn and believes that her way of living is correct. She is close minded, separating life into black and white. She is logical, and everything has an explanation in her mind.
She did not wish to be a murderess. She decided the real Robert must have died or gone insane.
In this example, she tells herself that she isn’t doing anything “wrong” because the child is a monster. She is giving a justification to breaking the rules because she wants to make any guilt disappear. She creates excuses to explain what she does.
I imagined it, she thought. I was looking for something, and when there was nothing, my mind just made something up. Very cooperative of it.
Here, she says that she imagined seeing Robert change into a monster. She then says that her mind is very cooperative, as if to pat herself on the back for giving a reason for something so unordinary to happen. Miss Sidley wouldn’t let herself stray too far from the designated rules.
I also tracked the conflict grow throughout the passage. It started out with denial. Miss Sidley refused to believe that she had seen Robert change. She made excuses for what she had seen. Robert continues to hint at knowing more than he should, with only his eyes.
He looked back with childlike innocence: Who, me? Not me, Miss Sidley.
A look that said, We have a secret, don’t we?
Miss Sidley is followed by smiles and giggles of other children. She sees the face that Robert changed into more. She begins to believe the impossible and wonders what Robert knows. The suspense and whispers drives her crazy. She cannot concentrate, and she can’t stop thinking that something is wrong.
And then he-‘
‘She knows, but-‘
More giggles, soft and sticky as melting soap.
‘Miss Sidley is-‘
Stop it! Stop that noise!
This caught my attention while reading. She used to be able to control these children like puppets, but now, they are laughing at her. More and more people begin to whisper behind her, and she grows more paranoid. This adds to her eventually going crazy. She is used to having everything within her reach, like chess pieces on a board. She had all the power, but she is losing the fear that was instilled in them. Their voices are no longer only following her. They are distorting, showing their true colors.
But they went on giggling. The voices changed, no longer girlish, now sexless and soulless, and quite, quite evil. A slow, turgid sound of mindless humor that flowed around the corner to her like sewage.
After punishing Robert for no reason, she holds him after school. There, Robert reveals that there are more of the monsters. They were growing in numbers, and he wasn’t Robert at all. Robert was lost beneath the monster in him. This is when Miss Sidley sees him change again. She no longer believes that she imagined it. She knows that they are all monsters. Miss Sidley shows fear, something she hadn’t done in public yet. She doesn’t know who she can trust.
As if they were …Hiding behind masks?
“Robert – the other Robert – he liked Show and Tell. He’s still hiding way, way down in my head.”
Miss Sidley comes back to school a month later. She had been left alone with her thoughts and fears festering inside her for too long. She had no one to talk to, no one to help her. This led to her complete insanity. She killed twelve children. Even though she knew that she killed a human,
It was human.
It was Robert.
It was all in your mind…
she continued to kill the students. When she was found, she said that they were all monsters. She was screaming at children and made no sense. She became a threat to others and was sent away. She went to an experimental therapy to see how she would react to children. She committed suicide afterwards. She did this because in her mind, she could still see the monsters. All children in her mind were beasts. After she was left alone with her fears for a moth, she couldn’t see them as anything else. It soaked in too far for anyone to reverse.
In the story, Miss Sidley refers to children as evil. She knew there was a darkness that was among all o them. This foreshadowed the reveal that they were all monsters in her mind, and they all needed to be gone.
Robert’s face floated in front of her, smiling unpleasantly in the darkness behind her lids. The face began to change. But before she saw exactly what it was changing into, darkness overtook her.
…wasn’t a child at all. It was old and it was evil…
The children were scaring her. This was not something she was used to, and she didn’t handle it well. Robert talked to her like they were an army coming after her.
‘There’s so many of us now you wouldn’t believe it,’ he said. ‘And neither would anyone else.’
They were ringed in a tight little circle, like mourners around an open grave. And at the head of the grave was Robert, a small sober sexton ready to shovel the first spade of dirt into her face.
Miss Sidley began to see them as a threat to herself. She needed to get rid of the threat. They were dangerous, but Robert made sure that she had no one to go to. Anyone she talked to her would think she was insane. She felt desperate, lonely, and afraid. If you keep all those emotions inside of you for too long, they will bubble up and explode. She was driven to the point where her only options were to kill all the children.
- What internal and external events lead to Miss Sidley murdering the children?
- What made Miss Sidley commit suicide?