Dolores Clairborne * Stephen King

Sometimes you have to be a high riding bitch to survive, sometimes, being a bitch is all a woman has to hang on to

Delores Claiborne, a cranky old maid for a rich lady, tells the story of her life – from the “accidental” murder of her husband and how he got to inherit millions from her mistress after her “accidental” death. Highly recommended, but if you are expecting a horror story from the horror master, you will be disappointed.

With books like this one from King , you do much better reading the thoughts in the minds of the characters than watch the movie. This specific book will eat up your free time, keep you up at night and leave you wondering – as a mother – what won’t you do for your family? This is the story of Dolores – as seen through her eyes – before and after the tragic death of her husband. Her abusive husband. Who “accidentally” fell in a well during an eclipse.

“…most of what bein human’s about is making choices and payin the bills when they come due. Some of the choices are pretty goddam nasty, but that don’t give a person leave to just walk away from em… In a case like that, you just have to make the best choice you can n then pay the price.”

9_lgs5Meet Dolores Claireborne – a hard working woman – pinching pennies for her children’s education, working a back-breaking job as a maid for the rich widow Vera Donovan. She is a good mother, a good wife, a steady pillar you would love to have as your neighbor.

Her husband, not so much.
He loved his drink and he loved going out with the boys. He has a quick temper and when Dolores laughs a little bit too much about a rip in his pants, he hits her with a fire log across the back – nearly breaking it. This is when Dolores knows she needs to set down a set of rules, otherwise he will hit her again and again – possibly maiming her or killing her in the process.

“In those days I still believed the love of a man for a woman and a woman for a man was stronger than the love of drinkin and hell-raisin—that love would eventually rise to the top like cream in a bottle of milk. I learned better over the next ten years. The world’s a sorry schoolroom sometimes, ain’t it?”

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She knows that domestic violence is a bad way to end a marriage and she threatens him with an ax that she will kill him the next time he sets his hands on her. This scene is witnessed by her children and the only thing they understand is that mommy is being mean to daddy and that mommy is a meanie. Using this to his advantage, he manipulates the children into hating their own mother – who is working so hard to bring food on the table.

There ain’t no power in heaven or on earth that can stop people from thinkin the worst when they want to.

You might ask yourself why she didn’t leave him. Why she stuck with him?

“We was used to each other in the way I s’pose two old bats can get used to hangin upside-down next to each other in the same cave, even though they’re a long way from what you’d call the best of friends.”

When his daughter starts growing up into a beautiful teenager, he starts behaving inappropriately towards her, asking to be touched privately, telling her that he needs the comfort that her mother does not provide… Dolores notices that something is going on as her bubbly daughter starts wearing saggy clothes and becomes uncommunicative. hqdefaultShe catches on and confronts her on a ferry when she’s returning from school – to ask what’s been going on with her and when she finds out about her husband’s incestuous behavior, she decides to leave him and take the kids with her.
When going to the bank to pick up her savings from their joint account – a whooping $2,500 earned by saving up from her $50/month job in 15 years, she finds that the bank account is empty – her husband used her checking book to clear out everything.

She is filled with despair, stuck in a marriage with a man she hates, who stole her money and abused their child. She breaks down in front of her employer and Vera tells her that accidents happen to all people. For example, her own husband died when the brakes failed on his car while driving to see his mistress, leaving her the only heir to his immense fortune.

I paid a higher price than anyone will ever know, but I lived with the bargain I made just the same. I did more than that. When the dust bunnies and the dreams of what could have been were all I had left, I took the dreams and made them my own. The dust bunnies? Well, they might have gotten me in the end, but I lived with them for a lot of years before they did. Now you’ve got a bunch of your own to deal with, but if you’ve lost the guts you had on the day when you told me that firing the Jolander girl was a boogery thing to do, go on. Go on and jump. Because without your guts, Dolores Claiborne, you’re just another stupid old woman.”
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Getting the message, Dolores confronts her husband and tells him to keep his hands of her daughter or else..
He stays away but Dolores knows he will relapse and one day he will go forward from casual touching to rape, so she waits for the night of the eclipse to murder him. She is cold and determined as she serves his last sandwich and then tells him that she knows what he did with the money. She knows he has been spending from it but the bulk of it, $2000, was in his own account and the bank, after hearing how he stole it from her, decided to give it back to her from his account. This is a lie in fact but he falls for it and threatens her, asking for the money that he thinks it’s his now…
She runs from him into a nearby forest, and as the day grows darker during the eclipse, she jumps over a well in the ground and waits for him to fall in.
He does so and then when she thought he was dead, he climbs up and Dolores has to kick him back in and cover the well. He dies in that well and the police find him a few days later, after she has filed a missing person report.

The children are grieving for their father and silently accuse her for driving him away.
She is stern, she knows what she did – she did for the love of her children and for their future.

Vera also knows what she did but never mentions it.

If you wanna know what kind of life a person had, just look at their hands.

The second part of the book was about the life Dolores had with the now senile and fat Vera, who became bed-ridden with old age. She made Dolores’ life miserable – by defecating in the bed and then using the feces on the walls around her.
She falls down the stairs and when Dolores comes from the kitchen to end her suffering, the mailman gets the wrong impression and accuses Dolores of murder. An investigation ensues and the old case of her dead husband is brought up to light.
The book ends with Dolores’ daughter returning to the small island to help her mother during the tough times and the news coming in that she is now a very rich heiress of Vera’s fortune. The murder suspicions cause riots in the town and loads of people start throwing stones at her house and ostracizing her – even before a fair trial starts.

If you want to know how it ends, have a read – it’s a very good book and you won’t regret it!


Dolores Claiborne has aged well. Now in my mid-thirties, I see this character as something of a role model.

In some ways, I am Dolores. Mind you, I did not murder my ex-husband, but I have to admit the thought did cross my mind. I admire the way Stephen King fashioned a female character unfettered by others’ opinion of her. He crafted a woman with a brusque surface, but a deep underlying sense of love and purpose. She is a character who acted with intensity and evolved over time. Her story pivots around the year 1963. Stephen King chose the year well. That was the year a full solar eclipse crossed Alaska, central and eastern Canada, and Maine.

The event drew a great deal of media attention and a beautiful article about the eclipse appeared months later in the pages of the November 1963 issue of National Geographic(Espanek). One can imagine a young Stephen King perusing the article. Coincidently, that was also the year feminism reemerged from its years of remission after women’s suffrage in 1920. It was the year feisty young women who grew up in “a man’s world” would be presented with the option to “become the men we wanted to marry” (Steinem 263).

Betty Friedan’s The Feminine Mystique was released in 1963. It was also the year of the Equal Pay Act and the publishing of the Report on the President’s Commission on the Status of Women, chaired by Eleanor Roosevelt until her death in 1962.

Dolores acquired her power as a woman and she became a feminist model in her own right. Stephen King wrote Dolores’s story with the clarity of 22 years hindsight. I doubt, as a writer of popular fiction, he crafted female characters with the single intent of supporting a cause. Rather, he is a novelist who reflected upon what jarred our sensibilities and shriveled our guts.

Many women failed to thrive under the oppressive conditions of the 1950s and 1960s. Still others suffered physical and emotional pain. The rights withheld from women at the time now seem so basic that young women may assume they have always been in place.  King’s writing reflected on the absurd attitude at the time that women could not handle even family finances. The bank scene in Dolores Claiborne attests to the institutional discrimination inherent in a male-centric society.

King may have used his storytelling skills to entertain us, but this story of Dolores’s dilemma highlighted the inequalities that inspired second-wave feminism.
Dolores Claiborne, played perfectly by Kathy Bates in the film, was the wife of an abusive husband and father. King has pointed out to us on several occasions the tension inherent in sexual relationships. The sexual relationship of marriage equals male power (as is evident in the more realistic fiction King has published: Gerald’s Game, Dolores Claiborne, Rose Madder and, more recently, Lisey’s Story).

What do you think?

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