Study Guide

'Salem's Lot Mortality

By Stephen King


Some of them were turned off by his job, and Mike found this honestly hard to understand. It was pleasant work, there was no boss always looking over your shoulder, and the work was in the open air, under God's sky; and so what if he dug a few graves… To his way of thinking, the only thing more natural than death was sex. (3.49)

This is Mike Ryerson, thinking about his job as gravedigger. The idea that death is natural sounds reasonable, but most of the book is given over to refuting that (not least by turning Mike into an unnatural creature of the night). Barlow would probably agree with putting sex and death together, though—vampires love sexy death.

…her first thought before realizing that he was dead was that the B12 had been helping; he looked better than he had since his admission. (4.497)

Like all the vampires, Danny looks better in death than in life. Death becomes a kind of beauty treatment, as if it's good for you, or as if vampirism is a truer expression of the townspeople's selves than just being alive is.

Understand death? Sure. That was when the monsters got you. (6.166)

Mark really does understand death. Death in 'Salem's Lot is when the monsters get you. Which means if you wear a cross and know the rules, you can escape it, even if all those other folks around you get eaten.

His life had always been one of sweet evenness… and one of the things that disturbed it was the miserable ends some of his students came to. (7.121)

Matt is thinking about how much he dislikes his students dying. The whole Lot practically is composed of his students, though, which explains why he (more than anyone else) is especially upset by what happens to the Lot. It also explains maybe why he dies when the Lot does: he's wrapped up in the life of the place, so the town's death is his death, too.

"I will see you sleep like the dead, teacher." (9.238)

Mike Ryerson is threatening Matt. But the threat is odd: is he telling Matt he will die? Or that he'll sleep like vampires sleep, which is like the dead? Maybe even the vampires aren't sure whether they're dead or not.

No one pronounced Jerusalem's Lot dead on the morning of October 6; no one knew it was. Like the bodies of previous days, it retained every semblance of life. (14.6)

The fascination with the idea that you can't tell dead from life seems to be applicable to small towns in general, not just ones infested with vampires. Small towns staying the same, never going anywhere, home to corruption and evil—are they all just "dead" in the first place? Parkins Gilman thought so.

His daughter, meanwhile, slept in enameled darkness within an abandoned freezer close to Dud Rogers—in the night world of her new existence, she found his advances among the heaped mounds of garbage very acceptable. (14.8)

Ruthie Crockett and Dud Rodgers are lying in darkness together. The night world here could be vampirism, but it could also just be the grave, where no one spurns everyone else, and everyone sleeps together.

In life she had been a cheerfully pretty girl who had missed the turn to beauty somewhere (perhaps by inches) not through any lack in her features but—just possibly— because her life had been so calm and unremarkable. But now she had achieved beauty. Dark beauty. Death had not put its mark on her. (14.326-327)

Susan used to be boring; now she's a dead vampire, and she's crazy hot. It's not clear whose eyes we're looking through here, but you get the uncomfortable sense that the novel's telling us more about Ben's preferences (or King's) than it really means to.

The skin yellowed, coarsened, blistered like old sheets of canvas. The eyes faded, filmed white, fell in. The hair went white and fell like a drift of feathers. The body inside the dark suit shriveled and retreated… For a moment a hideously animated scarecrow writhed beneath him, and Ben lunged out of the coffin with a strangled cry of horror… The fleshless skull whipped from side to side on the satin pillow. The nude jawbone opened in a soundless scream. (14.1248)

Barlow dies, aging in fast-forward. A lot of the death in this novel is about preservation. Sometimes, as with Danny Glick, it preserves perfect childhood, making sure you don't get any older. Barlow, who comes to 'Salem's Lot and ends up aging horribly, could be seen as the opposite of Ben, who comes to 'Salem's Lot to recapture his youth.

The town was dead. All at once he knew it for sure and true, just as he had known for sure that Miranda was dead when he had seen her shoe lying in the road.

He began to cry. (15.33-34)

That empty shoe, with the form of life but nothing inside, is a nice metaphor for the Lot—though it could be a metaphor not just for the Lot with vampires, but also for Ben's memory of it. That is, the Lot of his childhood is gone even before he returns. Seeing it fill up with vampire ghosts could just be a way of saying that you can't go home again, because home is dead. And filled with vampires.