Study Guide

'Salem's Lot Fate and Free Will

By Stephen King

Fate and Free Will

"Of such inconsequential beginnings dynasties are begun," he said, and although it was a joking throwaway remark, it hung oddly in the air, like prophecy spoken in jest. (2.8)

This suggests that Ben and Susan were meant to be together. But, of course, Susan dies. So is the element of fate here that Ben is going to drive a stake through her?

It conjured up an image of fate, not blind at all but equipped with sentient 20/20 vision and intent on grinding helpless mortals between the great millstones of the universe to make some unknown bread. (2.20)

Again, fate seems less like God and more like Stephen King, who grinds all his characters up in order to make spooky biscuits. Not that we're complaining.

He thought about deals with the devil. (4.236)

Crockett is thinking about deals with the devil right after he bullies Hank Peters in order to prevent him from going to the police and telling them all about having seen Ralphie's clothes in the Marsten basement. This is one of the most deliberately evil acts in the book. Straker sacrifices Ralphie for his unholy lusts, but Crockett sacrifices him for money he doesn't even need. If there's one act of free will that brings doom on Jerusalem's Lot, this would be it.

As the stranger came closer, Dud understood everything and welcomed it, and when the pain came, it was as sweet as silver, as green as still water at dark fathoms. (6.272)

Dud's hypnotized here. It's suggested that he welcomes being a vampire because that's how he'll get Ruthie Crockett—but how much of a choice does he have? It's also worth noting that the passage here is one of the most lyrical in the book. Maybe it's not Dud who's taken with being a vampire, so much, but King himself?

"I was frightened last night and did nothing and things grew worse. Now I am going upstairs." (9.208)

Matt chooses to confront evil. The funny thing is, it's not clear if he makes things better. Confronting evil gives him a heart attack, after all. He might have been better off taking his free will out of the house and living to fight another day.

Yet if you looked in the eyes, it wasn't so bad. If you looked in the eyes, you weren't so afraid anymore and you saw that all you had to do was open the window and say, "C'mon in, Danny," and then you wouldn't be afraid at all because you'd be at one with Danny and all of them and at one with him. You'd be— (10.398)

Mark resists where Dud gives in. But is that because of a moral choice, or is it just because Barlow is smarter or more powerful than Danny Glick?

And some distant gods, perhaps seeing how much luck he had manufactured by himself, doled out a little of their own. (12.160)

After freeing himself from Straker's knots by using a trick from Houdini, Mark finds a leg of the cot loose, so he is able to have a weapon. Luck comes to those who work at it—or, again, maybe King, having gotten Mark out of the rope, couldn't think of another way for him to break free without throwing some good fortune his way.

Then, gone. But not before he saw, or thought he saw, a look of desperate unhappiness on her face. (12.212)

There are a couple of moments when Susan seems less happy with being a vampire than any of the other vampires. Hers is the only bare suggestion that something human survives after the change—that there's some unhappy free will resisting in there. Maybe it's because she's the one vampire hunter who gets changed, or maybe it's because she wanted to get out of town, anyway. She doesn't belong in this community, but she's stuck. (See "Characters: Susan" for more.)

The boy reminded him physically of the boy he himself had been, but it was more than that. He seemed to feel a weight settle onto his neck, as if in a curious way he sensed the more-than-chance coming together of their lives. It made him think of the day he had met Susan in the park, and how their light get-acquainted conversation had seemed queerly heavy and fraught with intimations of the future. (14.49)

The meeting between Mark and Ben echoes the meeting between Susan and Ben at the beginning of the book. Again, there's a sense of fate, this time vindicated, since Ben and Mark really do spend their lives together, as well as killing the bad vampire together.

Joe Crane is given a left-handed gift from the gods… His death, which occurs at 6:51 PM, is the only natural death to occur in Jerusalem's Lot on October 6. (14.271)

The phrase "from the gods" sticks out in part because shortly before this, Father Callahan used the cross to blast apart the lock on the Marsten door. So, first the novel seems to believe in the Catholic Church; then it's talking about gods or fates. Sure, it's theologically confused, but no one's reading this novel for theology, anyway. (See "Symbols: Cross" for more.)