The Basis of Morality * Stephen King Book Review

All money tends to corrupt, and absolute money corrupts absolutely. This is an ancient message. You can find it in the Bible (“the love of money is the root of all evil”), in the writings of ancient Greek philosophers and Renaissance moralists, and also in Stephen King’s Morality story.

Morality is a novella by Stephen King published in the July, 2009 issue of Esquire. It was then included as a bonus story in Blockade Billy, a novella published on May 25, 2010, and later collected and re-introduced in the November 3, 2015 anthology The Bazaar of Bad Dreams.

This is the story of an aspiring writer, Chad, and his wife, Nora, who suddenly are faced with a moral problem. Nora works for a retired minister  who had a stroke. They are both struggling financially and are always looking for a way to make more money. When the minister tells Nora that he always wondered whether a good person is capable of evil and he is willing to pay her to find out, Nora is unsure of what to do so he asks Chad. They put in balance the large amount of money they will receive, their dream of a Vermont home, a happy, care-free future and the idea of doing a bad deed.

Human nature has no bottom. It is as deep and mysterious as the mind of God.

Nora goes back to her employer and says she will do what he asks but then she will quit her job. She is tasked to punch a child in the park and film everything. Nora gets a wig, goes to the park, punches a small child and while the mother rushes to the rescue, she is gone. She isn’t caught. She is trembling and she keeps telling Chad that she didn’t know how hard she hit the child but she wanted to hit him enough to be visible on camera to ensure they will get paid.
They go back home and check the video and Nora starts rewinding and stopping at the punch scene. Rewind and stop, rewind and stop. She is obsessed with herself performing a terrible act. Nora then takes Chad to bed and during their violent love making, she asks him to punch her – like she punched the child – probably looking for retribution, punishment that she knows she deserves.

Esquire Morality Cover (2009)

Seemingly satisfied with the outcome of Nora’s actions, Winston agrees to pay her the money and concedes that Nora will no longer wish to work for him now that she has seen his true face. Nora states that she finds the whole situation repulsive, and goes home wondering why Winston would ever want to commit such a senseless act and whether or not the police will ever find out about it.

As time passes, Chad and Nora are wracked with guilt over their complacence with the sin, so much so that their previously optimistic mindsets grow bleaker as their fear of exposure increases. Chad starts drinking, while Nora has two affairs and develops a tendency for masochistic satisfaction during sex. They eventually divorce, with Chad blaming the failure and poor quality of his book on guilt and Nora’s lack of faith in his writing talent. Nora is seemingly happy to be rid of Chad and begins working full-time at a hospital. However, on the way home from work one day, Nora notices an old book in a used bookstore which she had previously seen in Winston’s study called “The Basis of Morality.” After reading through it, Nora sadly concludes that there is little or nothing in the book that she didn’t already know.

Morality (from the Latin moralis “manner, character, proper behavior”) is the differentiation of intentions, decisions and actions between those that are distinguished as proper and those that are improper.[1] Morality can be a body of standards or principles derived from a code of conduct from a particular philosophy, religion or culture, or it can derive from a standard that a person believes should be universal.[2] Morality may also be specifically synonymous with “goodness” or “rightness”.

I believe I have seen some movies with the same dilema: how much is a person capable of losing of themselves in exchange for goods? Integrity, ethics, honesty – they are all moral quality that when lost, can never be recovered.
An interesting study as explained in the New York Times How Money Affects Morality – BY EDUARDO PORTER mentions that morality seems to fly out the window when the subject is presented with money.

“Social relations, which we assume are the fundamental basis of morality, can become de-emphasized so that moral considerations are obscured,” the researchers wrote.

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