Carrie and Bullying: Not ‘All in Good Fun’

Bullying in school

Judy Berman

Teasing and taunting. It’s all in “good fun.” Right?

For those being tormented, it’s anything but.

Cyber-bullying just gives a wider platform for this cruel behavior. Some think that ugly comments and bullying are a rite of passage kids pass thru. But, for those victimized, these incidents can shape their lives in tragic ways.

Some of my middle school students didn’t understand the power of their words on social media or in person, how much they can demoralize and traumatize a vulnerable person.

I shared with them Stephen King’s thoughts on bullying when he wrote his 1974 horror novel, “Carrie.”

Stephen King said he dug deep back to his days in high school to come up with his main character. She was the misfit who was bullied and who exacted revenge in horrifying ways on those who shunned and humiliated her.

Stephen King - 2007

In his book, “On Writing,” King says, in developing Carrie’s character, he remembered “what I knew about the two loneliest, most reviled girls in my class – how they looked, how they acted, how they were treated. Very rarely in my career have I explored more distasteful territory.”

One girl, he called “Sondra,” had a mother who was a religious fanatic. That was part of his inspiration for Carrie and her mother.

The other girl, he called “Dodie Franklin.” Classmates cruelly referred to her as “Dodo” or “Doodoo.”

Dodie’s parents loved to enter contests, but apparently the winnings didn’t include clothes for Dodie or her brother “Bill.” They wore the same clothes every day for their first year and a half of high school. Every day.

She became a target of the mean girls.

“The girls didn’t just laugh at Dodie, they hated her, too. Dodie was everything they were afraid of,” King wrote.

After Christmas, Dodie came to school wearing a beautiful cranberry-colored skirt and a soft wool sweater.

“Dodie was a girl transformed, and you could see by her face that she knew it,” King said.

But her classmates stepped up their ridicule because she dared to break free.

King said he “had several classes with her, and was able to observe Dodie’s ruination at first hand. I saw her smile fade, saw the light in her eyes first dim and then go out. By the end of the day, she was the girl she’d been before Christmas vacation – a dough-faced and freckle-checkered wraith, scurrying though the halls with her eyes down and her books clasped to her chest.”

Bullying - Text message

Both “Sondra” and “Dodie” had died before he wrote “Carrie.” Sondra died during a seizure. Dodie committed suicide after the birth of her second child.

King “suspected high school hangover might have had something to do with“ Dodie’s death.

As I read this, I recalled a boy I went to school with. In sixth grade, “John” was a shy, studious, sweet boy. When other boys began to pick on him, another friend of mine, a rough-and-tumble neighbor named Tom, came to his rescue. I admired Tom for sticking up for John.

I moved away in ninth grade and didn’t see John again until about 20 years later, when we both worked at the same place.

His transformation was stark.

Gone was the sweet, good-natured boy I’d known many years ago. He now was bitter, angry and hostile.

I wondered if what he went thru in high school was responsible for the man he turned out to be.

In the words of Scottish author, Ian MacLauren (pseudonym for Rev. John Watson): “Be kind. Everyone you meet is carrying a heavy burden.”

The question my students examined was whether individuals should be prosecuted for statements they make on social media? Please share your thoughts below in the comments section.

Photo: Bullying in school –  (Source: Isaias Alves da Cruz) Created 5-24-12.

Photo: Stephen King – 2007 – American author best known for his enormously popular horror films. Photo taken at the New York Comicon. (Source: Pinguino)

Photo: Cyber-bullying by text message (Source: Vivienlee2005)

  1. I’ve never liked the “sticks and stones” saying because it’s very far from the truth. As you’ve pointed out, words can cause scars that never heal and can transform a life. I remember reading about those girls in King’s “On Writing.” Broke my heart. And now kids not only get bullied in person but online too. I don’t necessarily have an answer to your question, but I enjoyed reading your post. Wonderful post on a difficult issue.

  2. This fine essay deserves publication to a wider audience. Maybe one of your other commenters can suggest where. My husband has a multimedia performance for schools entitled Sharing Brotherhood” that addresses this very problem. Great message!

  3. I was very affected when I watched the movie “Carrie.” I really wanted to wrap up my children (and grandies, now) in protective armor but all we can hope for is their “roots” snd love we poured over them will stand the test of teenager years, Judy. Three of my children’s friends died due to suicide caused by depression. One waa only 15, a boy I had babysat, my sons good friend. He ran out of school and ran in front of the next train; reacting after being tormented and teased in the lunchroom. The other two were gay and unable to head into late 20s due to having mean strangers who were merciless. One I can still have tears well up since Daniel was a singer – songwriter who had written songs which yearned for acceptance. (Not from parents, a nurse and a professor but from peers.)

    1. Robin … It’s a sad state of affairs when some can only feel good about themselves by putting others down – whether it’s an individual or groups of people.

      In 3rd or 4th grade, I was bullied – physically. It ended after the bully hit me with his rubber shoe covering – to the amusement of one of his simpering friends. I don’t know how it ended, but I was quite relieved to put that guy in my rear-view mirror.

      1. I am very sorry someone bullied you in the meanest way. I admire you and teachers who share books and stories to encourage kindness and acceptance, Judy. Mainly people are insecure or have themselves been put down who do these things. Understanding helps a little as an adult looking back, but there isn’t really any “good” in figuring it out. The world has become more cruel with cell phones, computers, and mass mailings or twitters. 😦

      2. Robin … if only the bulliers would put themselves in the other person’s shoes, then they might act differently. But I suspect you’re right that the bullier may have been bullied, too.

  4. Great post, Judy. I’m sharing it on Facebook. I have lots of teacher friends, including my daughter who teaches 8th grade. I remember being bullied a bit when I was young, but fortunately my mom found out and talked to teachers who took action.

    I don’t have any answers either, except to talk about the problem openly with students. On NPR the other day, I heard about a program that actually uses social media to combat bullying, and tries to get the most popular students involved because other students will follow their lead. So if it’s NOT cool to be a bully, then hopefully fewer kids will do so. Of course, that doesn’t stop it, but maybe it cuts down on the group bullying.

    1. Thank you for sharing my post, Merril. There are quite a few books that focus on bullying that I love such as “The Outsiders” by S.E. Hinton, “Touching Spirit Bear” by Ben Mikaelsen and “Hoot” by Carl Hiaasen.

      I also was bullied when I was in 3rd or 4th grade. Terrorized by a fellow student who was as big as some of my teachers. I was, maybe, the smallest kid in my grade. It did end. I always suspected that my parents intervened. 😉

  5. This is, sadly, one of your most powerful posts, Judy, and you have many outstanding posts. I was tutoring a young woman in a halfway house/mental facility when King’s ON WRITING came out. Her response was immediate and furious…but after awhile she wrote her version of bullied girls who got even. Not by violence, but by survival and following the beat of a different drummer (she was very bright and also into Emerson and Thoreau). But she also concluded that if the law were fair, it would not penalize those who jump in and turn the tables on bullies.
    I’m still reeling from the months of bullying my grandson went through in fourth grade, Judy. It did end, and was actually well resolved, but it was still painful and keeps me watchful and on edge.

    1. This post also is rooted in the torment I went thru in 3rd and 4th grade. I’m glad your grandson got thru this, Marylin. It is painful. If you get a chance, check out the video about 5 boys in an anti-bullying campaign who became friends with a boy who was very much picked on. It’s heartwarming.

      I’m glad that bullied girl found the strength to go on and hope that life is treating her much better now. 😉

  6. There wasn’t much bullying that went on when I was a kid. There were 18 kids in my grade and a nun at the helm. Need I say more? That was through 8th grade. Our high school was also small and I don’t remember any particular person being bullied. Kids would get picked on but the target changed daily and it wasn’t the constant pounding or ganging up. Jodi Picoult wrote a fiction book called “Nineteen Minutes.” I was very affected by it. I read it many years ago and that’s when I realized how real and tragic it could be. It’s worse with social media because people can write things they don’t have the courage to say in person. I don’t have an answer to your question but somehow people have to be responsible for the consequences. I didn’t read or see Carrie so I can’t comment to that.

    1. Kate … I was bullied in 3rd or 4th grade. The bully, a boy in my class, was as big as some of my teachers. I was, perhaps, the smallest kid in school. He terrorized me on my way home from school more than once. When the torment finally stopped, I was relieved. I believe my parents intervened, but I’m not positive.

      Anonymous taunts are the worst. The perpetrators are cowards, concealing their identities and continuing their harassment. What they are doing is beyond cruel.

  7. i have zero tolerance for bullying of any kind. it hurts my heart to hear what victims go through and it impacts them forever.

  8. I was bullied in high school by four guys. I was able to punch three of them when each was alone. I saw a lot of bullying in my 33 years in high school. At one school a boy of a particular ethnicity perhaps of 5% of school population was held in the toilet face and head down as the boys of another particular ethnicity perhaps the other 95 % flushed and flushed the toilet. The administrators same as the 95% chuckled it off as boyish prank not an actual assault. The parents were rightly outraged and withdrew their son.

    1. Scary, Carl. What they did sounds like a version from the scene of “The Outsiders” where the rich kids came close to drowning the main character.

      Bullying is no joke. I hope that those in the school system are now more attuned to the problem. Plus, they need to make sure those bullies are either removed from the school or have some serious time off out of school.

      The boy who bullied me once “entertained” his buddy who watched as I was being hit. The buddy was the son of a mayor. I often wonder what those two grew up to be.

  9. My bullying story was resolved in an odd way. I was bullied in middle school, my parents did not help. A few years later while in high school I coached the daughter of my bullies oldest brother. The younger brother somehow told the older brother about it and the older brother made him see the error of his ways. My bully (now in high school with me) gave me an honest and heartfelt apology. It didn’t undo, but it helped me heal and he was better for it as well.

    1. I’m glad the bully had a change of heart and that the apology was heartfelt. Too often, when caught, the apology is only empty and meaningless. My bully, in elementary school, never apologized to me. But it did stop.

  10. I detest bullying of any sort …always have . Many times I have stood up for people at school who were being bullied , in fact once, it even got me in front of the head mistress but I didn’t care I just shouted louder.
    I have a wonderful friend who had two sayings both loving taught by her amazing parents I’m sure . ..1 ) just like everyone for what they are and 2) I’m not better than anyone else and no body is better than me . She has been my like long friend and I love her , she should rule the world Judy .

  11. Mom, that’s a great story. As you know , we dealt with me being bullied in Elementary school. With your help and some help from my home room teacher Ms. Newhause it ended well. I was briefly bullied in High school, but Danielle and her friend Natasha put the kabosh on it pretty early on. Kids today are getting more creative and have no real empathy for others, they feel since it is anonymous then it isn’t really wrong. It’s harder to hold them accountable for their actions with that thought process.

    1. Jenn … This was a painful situation to deal with, worrying whether you had safe passage to and from school. I’m g;ad tjat your teacher, Ms. Newhause, and your sis and her firend were looking out for you, too.

      You’re right. People feel a certain comfort zone when they make anonymous mean comments online.

  12. Judy, this reminded me of George Saunders’ speech to Syracuse University grads a couple of years ago, when he coined the phrase “err in the direction of kindness.” He recalled a classmate in his youth who was an outcast. His speech gained a lot of attention, and you may have already seen it.

  13. I think what you say in social media should be treated the same way as if you were saying it to someone in person. If it is something you could be prosecuted for saying directly to someone than yes those statements made on social media is subject for prosecution, in my opinion. I am curious to hear what your students thoughts were?

    1. I think most of my students agreed that you should have a responsibility for what you say. That words have meanings. But, at least one of my students was quite vocal about “if someone kills themselves because of what’s said on social media, then that’s their choice.” I found his feelings to be quite insensitive, but not surprising because I hear how he talks to others.

  14. I think people who make some kinds of statements online should be held accountable, though some not necessarily prosecuted as not all of them are anonymous. There was a crime story about a girl in the US who committed suicide because her classmate’s mother got annoyed with her, took on a false name and pretended to be a peer online and wrote hurtful comments. This woman also got other kids riled up and ganging on the girl, who could ended up taking her life. The police investigated and the woman confessed to being behind the online bullying. What happened after that? Nothing! The deceased girl’s family was banned by the courts from ever mentioning that the woman had caused their child’s death. Can you imagine? I was angry and this ruling and I can only imagine how the parents feel. So, yes, people should be held accountable.

    1. I don’t totally don’t understand that court’s decision. The woman who bullied the child should be held accountable.Tragic that the family suffered twice – first, the death of their daughter; then having to keep silent about who caused it.

      1. I think the court said the errant woman’s life would be in danger if people knew about her. ?? I did not understand either, especially since she escaped any sort of punishment and yet a child died.

  15. Judy I recently caught up with an old friend who admitted the bullying she received when she was young effected her all though her life. I never realised how bad she had it at her school and the worst of it her mother use to get angry at her if she tried to tell her what was happening. I wish kids could spend a day in the other kids shoes maybe they would stop and think first.

    1. Some lack that ability to step into another’s shoes before judging, or empathy. More’s the pity. They might behave better if they did … or, at least, understand what some are going thru.

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