Everlasting Memories of a Time Long Past "The Man in the Black Suit" by Stephen King

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Temptations come in many different shapes, sizes, and forms. Giving into these temptations can have a lasting effect on the human mind. In “The Man in the Black Suit”, Stephen King used multiple literary devices to support his central idea, that once a man turns away from good and journeys into evil, that man will forever be impacted. King’s story started with an old man in a nursing home writing a journal about his childhood encounter with the Devil. The old man, Gary, began his story by going back to the summer of 1914. One afternoon, nine year old Gary went out fishing after he completed his chores. Before he left, Gary’s parents avidly made him promise not to go too far into the woods, and “not beyond where the water splits.” (King 782). Gary made his promise, as if to silence their nagging request and continued on his fishing trip.

Once in the woods, Gary gave into his temptation and wandered over to where the water splits. Gary broke his promise in doing so, but this was where the fish were biting. He quickly caught a rainbow trout, and dropped his line in the water again. While he waited for his next catch, he stared off into the clouds, and eventually drowsed off. He awoke to pull on his line, and bee on his nose. While sitting frightened, a clap is heard behind Gary and the bee falls to his death. The clap of death came from the Devil himself. The Devil approached Gary and told him horrible lies, and chased him out of the woods. Gary eventually ran into his father, and they investigated the incident together. No devil was found, but Gary’s father felt a strange presence in the woods, as if someone was watching them. Gary never again spoke of his encounter with the Devil, but the thought of facing the Devil again had tormented him for the rest of his life.

Gary is seen as both an old man, and a young boy in this story. He stated that his childhood terrors should be long forgotten at his old age. Yet, as the years passed on, the clearer his encounter with the Devil became. At a young age, Gary was the typical farm boy of the early 1900’s. He had chores to do around the farm, and did his share around the house. When all the day’s work was finished around the farm, Gary and his father enjoyed fishing down by the river. Gary had an impressionable imagination. When a bee landed on his nose, he imagined it was the same bee that killed his brother over a year before. Gary knew it was impossible, but he could not help but wander in the possibilities. When the Devil told Gary that his mother had just died while he was fishing, the young boy’s imagination assumed control. He did not want to believe it, but he could not help but imagine his poor mother dying on the floor.

The Devil was portrayed as the evil incarnate himself. He strolled through the summer woods with his tightly combed black hair, and his black three piece suit. In place of irises, his eyes were orange flames. His uncanny sense of humor scared Gary frozen. The Devil might have been a figment of Gary’s imagination, but nonetheless he encompassed all that was evil. Gary’s encounter brought a new sense of unity and love for his family. The Devil made the young boy realize how easy life could be taken away from him, and that he must preserve his goodness. He brought fear into Gary’s life (even at an old age) by showing him the consequences of temptation.

The internal conflict arose in this story when the Devil told Gary malicious lies. Gary felt the emotional burden of losing his brother one year before, and the Devil helped add to that burden by informing him that his mother had died as well. Gary visualized his poor mother dying on the floor, and went into hysteria. On top of losing his mother (or so he believed at the time), Gary regretted his decision to disobey his parents. If he had never gone to where the river splits and forks, he would have never encountered this beast. Gary’s external conflict arose when the Devil threatened to eat him. Running had seemed to be his only option. Just narrowly escaping the Devil’s grasp, Gary successfully eluded the demon. He would never forget the immeasurable amount of fear he felt at that moment.

The first person point of view allowed the reader to fully understand the absolute fear and everlasting damage the Devil had caused this young boy. We were able to grasp all of Gary’s senses as he encountered the Devil. Everything from what the Devil smelled like, to the immense heat Gary felt when the Devil breathed on him. We were able to perceive how evil the Devil could be, especially through the eyes of a nine year old Christian boy. When Gary wrote in his journal at an old age, we were able to see how the encounter still plagued his mind nearly 70 years after. Not even a life time can relieve Gary of his constant fear. In fact, as the years passed, the more scared he became; for at an old age he knew he could not run from the Devil as he had as a child. He knew there would be no escaping next time.

The old man’s story took place in his childhood town of Motton, Maine. Back in the early 1900’s, Motton looked considerably different from today. There were no planes, no telephones, and every household lived isolated from one another. This was during a time when someone could venture into the woods, and actually get lost! Gary’s parents warned him not to wander further than where the river splits and fork. They knew if he were to get lost, they might never find him. This warning may also have been symbolic. The two words splits and forks “are frequently used in our culture to describe two distinctive features of the devil: forked tail and split cloven hooves.” (Hansen 295). Gary’s vulnerability in the woods caught the Devils attention. Secluded out in the woods, the Devil could do his biddings without any interference from the outside world.

The story’s literal imagery personified how vile and wicked the Devil appeared. Every gruesome feature could be pictured with King’s use of dark imagery. Readers could understand the young child’s fear, and could realize why the encounter affected Gary to such a degree. The Devil’s dialogue showed how inconsiderate he was; especially when he found humor in other’s suffering. The description of Gary’s life changing day was so detailed, that he even remembered how his mother’s curly hair looked across her forehead. How could Gary possibly forget the events of such an impacting day? The sinister devil had forever haunted Gary.

Works Cited Page-Hansen, Tom. “Diabolic Dreaming in Stephen Kings, “The Man in the Black Suit””. Midwest Quarterly; Spring2004, Vol. 45 Issue 3, p290-303, 14p-King, Stephen. “The Man in the Black Suit”. Fiction 100: An Analogy of Short Fiction. Ed. James H. Pickering. New York: Pearson Education, Inc, 2010: 781-796. Print