Study Guide

Sling Blade Summary

Sling Blade Summary

A young college reporter prepares to interview a man in a mental ward. Instead of Girl, Interrupted this is Girl, Interrupting. But the man she's interviewing, Karl Childers, doesn't mind his busy day of sitting and staring out a window being interrupted. He eagerly tells the girl his whole life story.

Here it is.

Karl had a rough childhood. His parents kept him in a shed, where he slept in a hole in the ground. One day, he saw his mom engaging in, um, intimate relations with someone who wasn't his father. With a Kaiser blade—some people call it a sling blade, but he calls it a Kaiser blade—Karl killed the man having sex with his mother. That made his mom mad, and Karl realized that she was liking getting it on with that guy. So he killed her, too.

Okay, back to the present. The murder was a long time ago, and now Karl is set to get out of the mental hospital. The reporter asks Karl if he'd kill again, and Karl says, "I don't reckon I got no reason to kill nobody." The foreshadowing here is so strong, we imagine it won't be too long before he finds a reason to kill somebody.

Karl is released back into his small Arkansas hometown. He has nowhere to go, and he has a hard time adjusting to the freedom of the outside world. At a fast-food stand, he learns that he loves French-fried potaters, but he doesn't like much else about the world. He attempts to return to the mental hospital, but Mr. Woolridge, the administrator, says he can't just come back. It's a mental hospital, not a Motel 6. They haven't left the lights on for him.

Mr. Woolridge lets Karl spend one night in his own home, and then he gets Karl a job in town with Bill Cox, a man who repairs machinery. Karl has never met a lawnmower he can't repair, so it's a good fit. Cox even lets Karl sleep in the back room. Only a day after release, Karl has a job, money, shelter, and French-fried potaters. What more could a man want?

Well, Karl wants a friend. He meets a young boy named Frank at the laundromat and helps him carry his "warsh" home. Frank likes the funny-sounding older man, even after Karl tells Frank that he was in a mental hospital for killing someone. Frank introduces Karl to his mother, Linda, and Linda offers to let Karl sleep in their garage. Karl moves in.

For as nice as Linda is, her boyfriend, Doyle, is the opposite. He is mean to Frank, says homophobic things about Linda's friend Vaughan, and is cruel to Karl. Frank not only wishes his mom would stop seeing Doyle, but he also wishes that his own father, who killed himself, were alive again.


This isn't Pet Sematery, so that's not going to happen. Instead, the family tolerates Doyle's verbal abuse and threats of physical violence. He says he'll kill Linda if she tries to leave him. One night, he invites all his friends over to play music, but since he's a man incapable of having friends, the night ends with him yelling, screaming, and physically throwing the guys out of Linda's house.

Linda has had enough, so she kicks Doyle out, too. Good riddance.

Over the next few days, Karl gets baptized and he visits his own father, who is still alive and swears he never had a son. Karl tells his demented dad that he used to think about killing him, but now he sees that the geezer will be dead soon, so the world will be rid of him all on its own. Good riddance, part two.

At Linda's, the peace doesn't last. Doyle soon comes groveling back, and Linda accepts him. Doyle wastes no time saying cruel things to Frank and telling Linda that he wants Karl out of the house. Karl goes to Linda's friend, Vaughan, and gives him all the money he's made fixing lawnmowers. He wants Vaughan to keep Linda out of the house for the night—and to give her the sack of money.

That night, Karl returns to Linda's house, where Doyle is by himself. With a blade, he kills Doyle, then calls the police and turns himself in.

We last see Karl back in the mental institution, which might be his one true home. When asked how the outside world was, Karl says it was "too big." Inside the ward, our murderous little Goldilocks Karl finally feels just right.

  • Scene 1

    Scene 1

    • Seven disheveled folks in dingy whites sit quietly around a table.
    • One of them, a white guy in glasses, drags a chair slowly across the floor. There must not be a chalkboard for him to scrape his fingernails down.
    • The guy positions the chair near a man sitting at the window.
    • The window watcher has a really bad haircut, like if Moe from The Three Stooges went to a barber in Brooklyn.
    • Glasses guy tells Moe-cut that the Mercury is a really good car. He tells about how he picked up a prostitute in his Mercury once.
    • Something tells us this guy doesn't get out much.
    • Dude says he wanted his $25 back when the prostitute turned out to be a man.
    • Do prostitutes have a money-back guarantee?
  • Scene 2

    Scene 2

    • Meanwhile, in the office of the institution, a group of student journalists prepare to interview a killer.
    • Mr. Woolridge, the director of the institution, tells the students they can't take any pictures.
    • Mr. Woolridge says that Karl doesn't want his picture taken.
    • Karl turns out not to be the creepy man talking about prostitutes: he's the quiet man prostitute guy has been to.
    • Mr. Woolridge tells Karl he thinks it's a good idea to talk to the journalists. It might help him reacclimatize to the outside world when he's released.
    • In a private room, Woolridge tells the journalist she can't look at Karl or ask him questions during the interview. This is also how Matt Lauer learned to be a journalist.
    • The girl asks, "If he's so troubled, why are you letting him out?" A very good question, indeed.
    • Time's up, according to Mr. Woolridge. Plus, Karl hasn't shown any desire to kill anyone in a while, so he must be okay.
  • Scene 3

    Scene 3

    • Woolridge turns the lights off so Karl can enter.
    • Billy Bob Thornton's underbite has never looked better than in the silhouette of one dim lamp.
    • Karl starts telling the story of how he killed somebody.
    • As a kid, Karl lived in a shed because his mom didn't want him in the house.
    • Karl's dad worked at the saw mill. He didn't get paid much, but he got paid enough to feed his son mustard and biscuits three or four times a week. How generous.
    • One day, Karl saw the mill owner's son, Jesse Dixon, on top of his naked mother on the porch.
    • Karl killed Jesse with a Kaiser blade—nearly chopped his head off.
    • Then, when his mother was upset that Karl had killed Jesse, Karl killed her, too.
    • Karl says he would do it the same way again if he had the chance.
    • Why? Living in the institution has been better for Karl than living in the shed. He has a bed, food, and he learned to read the whole Bible.
    • The reporter asks Karl if he'd kill anyone else.
    • "I don't reckon I got no reason to kill nobody," Karl says.
    • That line has so many negatives, we're not sure if it's a yes or a no. Guess we'll have to keep watching.
  • Scene 4

    Scene 4

    • Woolridge dismisses the journalists, and Karl says he'll have to get used to people looking at him.
    • Karl gets his books, his only possessions, and leaves the institution.
    • A bus drops Karl off on the side of the road in a small Southern town.
    • After wandering through town, Karl stops at the Frostee Cream for food.
    • Karl asks for biscuits, but they don't serve biscuits at Frostee Cream.
    • The employee recommends the French fries, and Karl orders some. He supersizes it for only seventy-five cents. Go big or go home…to the mental institution.
  • Scene 5

    Scene 5

    • At the laundromat, where Karl is eating his French fries, a boy struggling with big bags of laundry talks to Karl.
    • The boy says his mom works, and his dad is dead.
    • Karl offers to help the kid carry his laundry.
    • On the way to the boy's house, the boy introduces himself as Frank Wheatley.
    • Franks and Wheatleys sound like a dish the Frostee Cream might serve.
    • Anyway.
    • Karl says he just got out of the state hospital after killing some folks.
    • Frank asks if Karl is now well.
    • "I reckon I feel all right," Karl says.
    • Because the killer just released from a mental hospital seems nice, Frank invites him to play football.
  • Scene 6

    Scene 6

    • Karl returns to the state hospital. He wants to go back.
    • But Woolridge won't let Karl back in. That's not how getting released works.
    • Woolridge pitches an idea to Karl: perhaps he can work at a fix-it shop.
    • Mr. Woolridge puts Karl up in his own house for the night, before taking him down to Millsboro the next day.
    • At the fix-it shop, Woolridge introduces Bill and Scooter to Karl.
    • Scooter doesn't have a problem having Karl in the shop. He says he always wanted to kill Jesse Dixon himself.
    • Bill offers Karl minimum wage, an old army cot, and a toilet—better benefits than most jobs offer today.
    • At the end of the day, Bill says Karl did a good job.
    • Bill locks Karl in the store but says maybe someday they'll get him a key.
    • It's not like Karl has a busy social life, anyway.
  • Scene 7

    Scene 7

    • At lunch the next day, Bill says he doesn't feel right keeping Karl locked up, so he gives him a key.
    • Bill also gives Karl an advance on his paycheck.
    • Now it's time to party.
    • Getting off work early, Karl visits Frank to hang out.
    • Karl accompanies Frank to Hoochie's Dollar Store, which is where Frank's mom works.
    • It's an actual dollar store. Get your mind out of the gutter.
    • At the dollar store, Karl meets Frank's mom and the manager, Vaughan.
    • Mom tells Karl that he can stay in their garage instead of at the greasy shop.
    • Karl is moving on up fast.
  • Scene 8

    Scene 8

    • Frank takes Karl to his "secret place," a quiet spot by a lake.
    • Frank and Karl talk about being poor and having dead parents. Real uplifting lunchtime talk.
    • Frank says that his momma's boyfriend, Doyle, is mean, stingy, and probably has other girlfriends.
    • Frank likes Vaughan better but says that Vaughan is funny. "Not funny ha-ha, funny queer."
    • If only Vaughan liked to go out with women, he could be Momma's boyfriend, which Frank thinks would be an upgrade.
    • Frank confesses that his dad died from suicide. He left a letter saying he felt ashamed that he couldn't provide for the family financially.
    • Like we said: what an uplifting lunchtime chat.
  • Scene 9

    Scene 9

    • Doyle says he don't "give a s***" that a "retard" is staying in the garage.
    • Yep, Doyle's every bit as charming as Frank said he was.
    • Doyle just wants to make sure that Karl isn't the kind of "retard" who "drools" and "rubs s*** in his hair."
    • Doyle's also worried that Karl may have hacked his family up with a hatchet.
    • No, it wasn't a hatchet. It was a sling blade.
    • Outside, Vaughan finds Karl at the door. He's been standing there for a while without knocking.
    • Vaughan asks Karl out for lunch to talk tomorrow.
    • Vaughan knocks, and Frank is happy to see both him and Karl at the door.
    • Once Vaughan leaves with Linda, Doyle asks Karl to sit down and talk to him about his bag and his books.
    • Then Doyle asks Karl if he chopped someone up with a hatchet.
    • Karl, truthfully, says he never used a hatchet.
    • Karl and Frank retreat to the garage, where Frank says he wants to kill Doyle: "I hate him."
    • Maybe Karl should use a hatchet on Doyle. No one would miss him.
  • Scene 10

    Scene 10

    • The next day, Vaughan takes Karl out for lunch.
    • Karl gets his usual: French-fried potaters and mustard.
    • Vaughan admits to Karl that he is gay, but he says he stays in the small town because he cares for Linda and Frank.
    • Vaughan warns Karl that Doyle is a "monster." He says he's tried to tell Linda that Doyle will hurt her someday.
    • Vaughan wants Karl to promise that he won't hurt Frank and Linda.
    • Right now, the only thing that Karl would hurt is those French fries he's tearing up.
    • Vaughan believes that Karl looks like a deep thinker, and he says he wants to know what Karl is thinking.
    • Karl says he's been thinking of French fries and potted meat.
    • Real deep, man. Real deep.
  • Scene 11

    Scene 11

    • Linda, Karl, and Doyle eat dinner while Karl stays in the garage.
    • Linda doesn't understand why Karl won't eat with them.
    • Doyle wants to invite his friends over for a party, despite Linda's desire for a quiet evening.
    • The men form a band on the porch while Karl, Frank, Vaughan, and Linda sit in the yard and watch.
    • Doyle persuades Karl and Vaughan to go with him to the county line to get more liquor.
    • Inside the house, the men drink and talk about songwriting.
    • When the men say they want paying gigs, Doyle gets angry and throws a beer bottle through a window.
    • "I'm the only sane son of a b**** here!" Doyle yells, after screaming at everyone.
    • Doyle kicks everyone out of his house, and Linda emerges from the bedroom to remind Doyle that it's her house, not his—and she wants him out.
    • Doyle pushes Linda, and Frank pushes Doyle back, knocking him to the ground.
    • While Doyle is on the ground, Frank throws pretty much everything in the living room at him—beer cans, bottles, books. We're surprised he doesn't pick up Karl and chuck him, too.
  • Scene 12

    Scene 12

    • Doyle leaves, and Linda makes a cup of coffee to try and relax.
    • Karl tries to cheer Linda up by telling her an off-color joke he heard from Bill, but he gets it all wrong.
    • It's almost breakfast-time, so Karl requests biscuits and mustard.
    • While making biscuits, Linda invites Karl over to Vaughan's house, where he can meet a nice "slow" girl that she works with.
    • Karl accepts the invitation.
    • As the two continue talking, Karl reveals that he killed his mom and Jesse Dixon.
    • Linda doesn't really mind, because she knows that Karl wouldn't hurt her family.
  • Scene 13

    Scene 13

    • Over at the repair shop, Bill tells Woolridge that Karl is getting along at the shop just fine.
    • That night at dinner, Karl meets Melinda, Employee of the Month at the dollar store.
    • Melinda really likes pricing items.
    • Vaughan gives a little speech about caring for everyone at the table. Then he asks Melinda not to tell anyone that Albert was at dinner.
    • Melinda says everyone at the store already knows about Vaughan and Albert.
    • To shut her up, Linda tells Karl to take Melinda out for a walk.
    • Karl walks while Melinda smokes and tries to keep up.
    • The next day, Melinda brings Karl a little bouquet of flowers.
    • Bill and Scooter head to the Frostee Cream so that Karl and Melinda can be alone.
    • Melinda says she enjoyed walking with Karl, even though she got a blister on her heel.
    • Karl has some romantic words for Melinda, like "Blisters sure can hurt" and "Flowers is purdy."
    • Then Melinda leaves. How she could walk away from flirting like that, we'd never know.
  • Scene 14

    Scene 14

    • Frank invites Karl to the pond.
    • At the pond, Karl talks about how he had a brother once for, oh, about five minutes, until his daddy asked him to throw the baby away.
    • Karl's father handed him a bloody towel, and when Karl looked in, he saw the little baby squirming there.
    • Karl didn't want to throw the baby away, so he put him in a shoebox and buried him in the yard.
    • Karl wishes there was something he could have done, but he knows there wasn't.
    • Frank asks Karl if he ever thought about killing himself.
    • Karl says the Bible says not to do that, but Frank reminds him that the Bible says not to kill others, too. Burn.
  • Scene 15

    Scene 15

    • When Karl and Frank return home, Doyle is back. Oh, happy day.
    • Doyle says he's there to apologize.
    • Doyle says he doesn't like homosexuals, "wimpy-ass kids," or "retards," but Linda associates with all of them, so he's got to deal with it.
    • Um, does Doyle think this is an apology?
    • Doyle says he'll be spending a lot more time with everyone now, but no one looks happy about it.
    • Linda says, "At least he's tryin'."
    • Linda feels sorry for Doyle because he's had a hard life.
    • Frank reminds Doyle that they have had a hard life, too. And they don't go around breaking windows.
  • Scene 16

    Scene 16

    • Down at the football field, Karl plays ball with Frank and boys his age.
    • On the way home, Karl tells Frank that he's proud of him.
    • Frank seems happy, maybe because that's something he doesn't get to hear from his own father anymore.
    • Speaking of bad fathers, Karl decides to take the afternoon to go look in the old shed where his dad used to keep him.
    • The shed's still there, along with the hole in the floor where Karl slept as a child.
    • Karl enters the family's old run-down house as if he's a location scout for Hoarders or something.
    • Surprisingly, the house isn't empty.
    • Karl's dad is still there, sitting in a chair, talking to himself.
    • Karl introduces himself, but his dad says he "ain't got no boy."
    • Now that's he's read the Bible, Karl says, he knows that the stories his dad used to tell him aren't in there.
    • Karl says he thought about killing his father, but now that he sees how old his father his, he realizes he'll be dead soon enough.
    • Good riddance.
    • Quite the reunion, huh?
  • Scene 17

    Scene 17

    • In the yard, Karl pays his respects to the rock that marks his young brother's grave.
    • Then Karl walks into Linda and Doyle's bedroom and says he wants to be baptized.
    • Linda and Doyle tell him they'll call the preacher tomorrow.
    • The whole town turns out to see Karl get dipped in the lake.
    • After a hymn, Karl and the family return home, where Doyle is waiting for lunch.
    • Doyle wants Chicken Champ, which seems to be a KFC competitor. Is it finger-lickin' good?
    • Linda goes to get Chicken Champ, leaving Karl and Frank alone with Doyle.
    • Doyle tells Frank the only problem he has is Frank. So he's going to set some rules: 1) Don't speak unless spoken to. 2) Stay the hell out of Doyle's way. 3) Do what a regular kid does. What is that, exactly?
    • Oh, and rule #4: Doyle's kicking out Karl.
    • Frank protests, and Doyle grabs him. Karl grabs Doyle, telling him never to lay a hand on Frank.
    • How much longer do you give it before Karl kills Doyle? The movie has 25 minutes left.
  • Scene 18

    Scene 18

    • Linda returns with a big bucket of Chicken Champ and sees Karl leaving.
    • Karl says he's just headed off somewhere, but he doesn't say that he's not coming back.
    • Karl tells Linda she's a good momma, which is true except for the fact that she lets Doyle back into her house. But okay.
    • Also, Karl thanks Linda for her biscuits. Anyone who makes biscuits is a good person.
    • Finally, Karl says he fixed the washing machine so that Frank won't have to go to the laundromat again.
    • Karl finds Frank at the secret place, where Frank wishes he, Karl, and his momma could run away from Doyle and be happy.
    • Frank wonders why Karl doesn't stop Doyle from treating him and Linda the way he does.
    • Karl assures Frank he still cares for him, even though he's moving out. They'll always be friends, Karl says, and he gives Frank his books as a reminder.
    • Before he leaves, Karl tells Frank to go to Vaughan's house that night instead of going home. It's not safe there, with Doyle liquored up, he says.
    • "I love you, boy," Karl says to Frank, and Frank says he loves him back.
    • As if this weren't tearjerking enough, Frank finds the bookmark Karl gave him. It says, "You will be happy."
    • We didn't even know Karl could write.
  • Scene 19

    Scene 19

    • Karl goes to Vaughan's house and asks him to invite Linda over to stay tonight.
    • Vaughan promises to do it so that Doyle won't be able to hurt Linda.
    • Before he leaves, Karl gives Vaughan a small sack of money to give to Linda. It's his savings from fixing lawnmowers. There's a lot of green in that business.
    • In the shed, Karl sharpens a blade. Some people call it a sling blade, but he calls it a Kaiser blade, mmhmm.
    • Karl enters Linda's house, where Doyle is drinking a beer and reading the paper.
    • Doyle doesn't think it's weird that Karl is there clutching a blade in his lap. How many beers has he had?
    • Karl asks how to call the police.
    • Before he answers, Doyle asks what Karl is doing with the lawnmower blade.
    • "I aim to kill you with it," Karl says.
    • Doyle tells Karl to call 911 and ask for an ambulance. "Or a hearse, if you aim to kill me."
    • Karl then kills Doyle. Option B it is.
    • In the kitchen, Karl picks up the phone and calls the police.
    • As he waits for the police to arrive, Karl has some biscuits from Chicken Champ. With mustard, of course.
  • Scene 20

    Scene 20

    • Now Karl is back where he started—in front of the window listening to the creepy man talking about prostitutes.
    • Oh, but this prostitute the guy kept hostage in his house, bound and gagged. He's creepier than we thought.
    • Why can't this guy be Karl's next victim?
    • The creepo wants to know what things were like in the world outside.
    • Karl says it was too big.
    • The man blathers on a bit, until Karl tells him that he doesn't want to listen to him anymore.
    • El Sleazo drags his chair away, and Karl gazes out the window at the world he's no longer a part of.
    • The end.