In the short story, Suffer the little Children, Stephan King tells the tale of an old school teacher who faces an unusual problem. The teacher, Miss Sidley, is forced to deal with a group of children unlike any she had faced in her life; these children were different, very different. The children in the story are not human. The discovery of this causes Miss Sidley to act in ways she never thought capable, eventually leading to murder. King conveys the theme: what you don?t know and don?t understand can be very harmful, in a suspenseful manor by using the literary tools tone, setting and characterization.
King utilizes tone in a suspenseful manner to convey the theme. Tone is used to help the reader understand the attitude of the story. Tone is first shown on page 440, ??she could turn her back on her pupils with confidence.? This sentence demonstrates to the reader Miss Sidley?s superiority over the children. Tone is again used shortly after to show a shift in power. ?Miss Sidley was suddenly, unaccountably sure Robert knew about her little trick with the glasses? (440). Later in the story, on page 444, tone is used to put fear in the readers minds, ?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 not hair but straggling, twitching growths.?
King then uses tone to show Miss Sidley?s transformation into a killer, ?She went back up to the room and began to lead them down, one by one. She killed twelve of them and would have killed them all if Mrs. Crossen hadn?t come down for a package of composition paper? (446). King uses suspense to keep the reader interested and involved in the story. Suspense is first seen on pages 440-441. After Miss Sidley asked Robert to put the word tomorrow into a sentence and listened to his response she turned back to the board to observe Roberts reaction through her glasses. What she saw amazed her, ?The reflection was small, ghostly, and distorted. And she had all but the barest corner of her eye on the word she was writing. Robert had changed. She caught just a flicker of it, just a frightening glimpse of Robert?s face changing into something? different.? King again adds suspense lines later when he writes, ??it seemed that Robert gave her a strange look on the way out. A look that said, We have a secret, don?t we?? (p. 441).
The suspense is added to on page 443, when Miss Sidley observes two girls shadows change in the bathroom. King writes,
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 quite, quite evil. A slow, turgid sound of mindless humor that flowed around the corner to her like sewage.
Another prime example of King?s use of suspense takes place when Miss Sidley keeps Robert after class. King writes, ?Robert?s smile grew wider; it became vulpine. ?Do you want to see me change, Miss Sidley? Do you want a really good look??? (444). He then adds,
?Robert?s smile grew wider ? wide enough to show his teeth. ?It will be just like Show and Tell, won?t it, Miss Sidley? Robert ? the other Robert ? he liked Show and Tell. He?s still hiding way, way down in my head.? The smile curled at the corners of his mouth like charring paper. ?Sometimes he runs around? it itches. He wants me to let him out. (444)
The greatest example of suspense comes in the form of the climax. Miss Sidley brings Robert into a sound proof room in the school planning to fix the problem confronting her. King keeps the reader guessing while Miss Sidley and Robert face off.
?No one can hear you,? she said calmly. She took the gun from her bag. ?You or this.? Robert smiled innocently. ?There are lots of us, though. Lots more than here.? He put one small scrubbed hand on the paper-tray of the mimeograph machine. ?Would you like to see me change again?? Before she could speak, Robert?s face began to shimmer into the grotesqueness beneath and Miss Sidley shot him. (446)
Stephan King also makes use of setting to convey the theme. The setting of this story is very familiar to anyone who has had any form of schooling. It takes place in an elementary school building, mostly in Miss Sidley?s classroom. Miss Sidley is the typical, old, eye in the back of her head, stern teacher, who sees everything that her students are doing. The classroom is filled with young children who are only paying attention so as not to get yelled at by Miss Sidley
Halfway through the story a change in the setting occurs. The location doesn?t change nor does the time period but other things change. The power that Miss Sidley once displayed is shifted to the children, namely Robert. This change in power causes the room to transfer from a room out of any child?s academic career, to a room of uncertainty and the unknown. This shift causes the whole setting to change.
Stephan King uses suspense, setting, and tone to convey the theme in ?Suffer the Little Children.? The story, which is constructed in a classic plot structure, shows that the unknown is very dangerous. Not knowing what she faced caused Miss Sidley to change, from a person who has total control, into a person without control. King ends the story in an interesting way, by leaving the reader guessing. While in the mental institute, for killing the children, Miss Sidley teaches mentally retarded children in an experimental program. One day in class, King writes, ?Then she seemed to see something which disturbed her; a frown creased her brow and she looked away from the children?That night Miss Sidley cut her throat with a bit of broken mirror-glass, and after that Buddy Jenkins (the psychiatrist) began to watch the children more and more. In the end, he was hardly able to take his eyes off them? (447).