In the novella The Body, author Stephen King makes an attempt to explain a story about losing innocence, only to be replaced by maturity and the corruption that comes with it. To do so, King revolves a story around a group of four boys who go on a life changing journey to find a dead body they heard about through the grape vine. Little did they know that pursuing this journey would eventually change them for the worse. In its entirety, the crux of the novella was to show how the experience of meeting death hands-on will pivot a person’s life and will either lead them onto a slippery slope or mold them in to a man soon to be.
More specifically, King reinforces this theme beautifully by using light imagery during the scene of the boys finding the body of Ray Brower to reinforce the loss of innocence. By contrasting darkness and brightness, so to speak, King ultimately creates a more powerful sense of the death surrounding the innocent boy who lies before them.
The mood, in turn, overshadows the boys, resulting in having an effect on them for the rest their lives. However, unfortunately for them, it is not good. The lasting effect of them meeting Ray Brower will forever haunt them and control their lives. Subsequently, King employs lightness and darkness in The Body to represent the contrast between innocence and maturity.
Initially, the four boys are greeted by darkness as they draw near to the location of Ray Brower. All around them the sky is being consumed by “…clouds [beginning] to build in the sky…but at first none of [them] took [it] seriously” (King 403). Unfortunately for them, Mother Nature itself is casting her own darkness before them. The fact that the scene opens like this holds importance; the pinnacle of their trip is being welcomed in with darkness and will eventually rain down upon them whether they are ready for it or not. Just like masculinity, the weather is charging down upon them with unstoppable force. For the dark imagery, this alone acts as a bad omen for the boys, failing to realize that all the signs are there for them to rethink this decision; sadly for them they are unaware of this.
In hindsight, however, Gordon Lachance realizes that this very event was indeed a perfect storm, but this awakening would come too late to be of any importance to him or the three other boys. In real-time, the boys are walking head-on in to the beginning of the end of their innocence. In this very light the darkness welcomes them with open arms. As the darkness consumes them their innocence fades along with the light. By the time they had arrived at the sight of Ray Brower the light had already been greatly reduced and “[t]he rain had started” (407). Contrary to popular belief, the coming of the rain does not entail the bringing of new life and rebirth, instead it means the exact opposite; at this point there is no rebirth, death is final and has made its mark. At this point there is no turning back for them; what they are about to experience will never be forgotten.
At first sight they can see “…black ants trundling back and forth across [his] hand” (407). This sight alone reeks of death and corruption; nothing good can ever be possessed by ants. Since Ray Brower is covered in them it reinstates the fact that what was once a young and innocent child has now become perverted by masculinity and all of its impurities. The added fact that his body is decaying gives a stronger sense to the fact that his innocence has rotted away, just like that of the four boys around him. These subtle, dark details encompass the fact that stepping in to this mess puts them outside of any common ground of innocence; that which was once pure and righteous no longer resides in them. By using darkness King succeeds in making the overall feel of the scene bleak and dismal.
On the contrary, Stephen King also uses light imagery to express to the reader the loss of innocence. As the boys continue to look around the body, they begin to notice little details that actually hold great meaning to the entirety of what they are looking at. Upon first sight the boys notice around Ray Brower’s feet the “…pair of filthy low-topped Keds” (408). For its time period, Keds were viewed as adolescent shoes worn by children; appropriate for the feet that they were once bestowed upon. If it has not been made clear by now, Ray Brower was once a young, loving innocent child and everything that he was and what he wore embraced that aspect of him, everything all the way down to his feet. He himself was a representation of light and the sense of goodness.
By seeing that he had been “…knocked spang out of his Keds” (408) showed that all possible traces of innocence have been dismissed from his mortal body, in the figurative sense and literal sense. What was once pure and righteous was now consumed by evil and corruption; the light had left his body only to be replaced by darkness. Even the Keds that were once upon his feet had become “dirty” (409). All that touched and had once touched Ray Brower was no longer in any state that resembled anything close to light; he was fully enshrouded in the darkness and the boys that approached were soon to experience the same fate. Unfortunately for the four of them, this event will dislocate them from their once enjoyed adolescent nature and plunge them into the nature that is of adulthood and maturity. For all involved, this is a powerful thing and for most they will not be able to withstand it. For Gordie, he is the only one that will be able to hold onto just a sliver of light and prevent himself from being completely overtaken by the darkness as the others will.
Thus, in The Body, Stephen King is successful in using the austere contrast between light and dark imagery in the scene of finding Ray Brower’s body to reinforce the theme of the loss of innocence. He embraces the fact that the darkness overtaking the way of the light represents maturity and masculinity taking control over the once adolescent bodies of the four boys. Ultimately he creates a vivid image of the two compelling forces fighting against each other, only to realize that, sadly, darkness comes out on top. Consequently, he shows how the path from boyhood to manhood is overbearing for most and will either make or break a person.
King, Stephen. Different Seasons: “Rita The Body” New York: Signet, 1998.