Study Guide

'Salem's Lot Community

By Stephen King


And that was why New York—or someplace—was imperative. In the end you always crashed against the unspoken barricades of their love, like the walls of a padded cell. (2.187)

Susan's thinking about her mother's love as a padded cell: she needs to escape that love and to escape the community. Jerusalem's Lot is a stifling trap of unholy love—and that's even before the vampires show up.

He had overthrown his own personal maxim for the first time. You don't s*** where you eat. (3.240)

Larry Crockett actually has a sense of community: he generally doesn't do his crooked land deals in his own town, where they could affect his neighbors and his family. Larry kept his own community clean… until he decided to defile it with, as it turns out, vampires.

The female lead (Ruthie Crockett this year, probably) would fall in love with some other cast member and quite possibly lose her virginity after the cast party. (3.283)

Matt is musing on the yearly school play, and how the same thing happens every year with different players. The school play, including the female lead falling in love, is a kind of community ritual. In some sense, the vampires interrupt that: there is no play. But Ruthie does (symbolically and maybe literally) lose her virginity when Dud Rodgers changes her into a vampire. So you could say that the vampires are simply continuing the community tradition.

In a way she was the town, a fat widow who now went out very little, and who spent most of her time by her window dressed in a tentlike silk camisole, her yellowish-ivory hair done up in a coronet of thick, braided cables, with the telephone on her right hand and her high-powered Japanese binoculars on the left. The combination of the two—plus the time to use them fully—made her a benevolent spider sitting in the center of a communications web that stretched from the Bend to east 'salem. (3.423)

Mabel Werts is here presented as the community itself: bloated, spider-like, corrupt, feasting on gossip. She's also a little like the reader, who eagerly gulps down all the noxious doings in the novel—better informed even than Mabel, right?

And the day seemed to stand still for them, and Vinnie Upshaw began to make another cigarette with sweet, arthritic slowness. (4.274)

The slow, never-changing conversation of the men at the agricultural store stands in for the unchanging small-town life… and also for the unchanging life of the undead.

"Not all the gossip in a small town is open gossip. There are secrets. Some of the secret gossip in ''Salem's Lot has to do with Hubie Marsten. It's shared among perhaps only a dozen or so of the older people now—Mabel Werts is one of them… It's strange, you know. Even Mabel won't talk about Hubert Marsten with anyone but her own circle… The secrecy concerning that aspect of Hubie and his wife is almost tribal." (9.187)

Here Matt sees 'Salem's Lot as a tribe, with secret signs and rites centering on Hubie Marsten. The vampires, linked also to Marsten, are tribal evil secrets made flesh—not so much an infestation as a buried truth there all along.

Being in the town is prosaic, sensuous, alcoholic. And in the dark, the town is yours and you are the town's and together you sleep like the dead, like the very stones in your north field. There is no life here but the slow death of days, and so when the evil falls on the town, its coming seems almost preordained, sweet and morphic. It is almost as though the town knows the evil was coming and the shape it would take. (10.2)

King explicitly says that the community and the evil are the same—and that they both include the reader. Everyone, whether writer, reader, or townspeople, is in a conspiracy to get those vampires up and out so that all can enjoy the delightful shivers.

"I might have bypassed such a rustic community as this," the stranger said reflectively. "I might have gone to one of your great and teeming cities. Bah!... What do I know of cities? I should be run over by a hansom crossing the street! I should choke on nasty air!.. How should a poor rustic like myself deal with the hollow sophistication of a great city… even an American city? No! and no and no! I spit on your cities!" (10.330)

Barlow is paraphrasing the words of King's wife, who said that Dracula wouldn't do well in a big city (see "Brain Snacks"). Barlow is a stranger, but he's a stranger who has connections to this community, both because of his past (via his correspondence with Marsten) and because of affection. He's kind of like Ben Mears: they're both outsiders who want to be part of the community.

"My town is disintegrating almost before my eyes and you want me to sleep?" His eyes, seemingly tireless, flashed out of his haggard face. (14.600)

Mabel may be the town, but Matt is one of the few characters who seems to have a love for the place. He cares about his former students and current students—and he's lived there a long time. It's also notable that he basically dies when the Lot does. It's like his heart was in it and couldn't go on when the town died.

"This town is still alive and you're running out on it."

"It ain't alive," Parkins said, lighting his smoke with a wooden kitchen match. "That's why he came here. It's dead like him. Has been for twenty years or more. Whole country's goin' the same way." (14.1088)

Parkins, unlike Matt, doesn't like the Lot at all. He figures it's better off in the hands of vampires, or that it was really vampiric to begin with. Barlow couldn't have done so well if the town weren't already his to begin with, Parkins figures.