Study Guide

The Shining Themes

  • Family

    From the start of The Shining, you can tell that there's something not quite right about the Torrance family. Maybe it's Danny's imaginary friend; maybe it's Jack's short temper with his wife Wendy, or maybe it's the fact that Jack dislocated his son Danny's shoulder when Danny was just a toddler.

    They're far from ideal, and it looks like their isolation at the Overlook Hotel is going to highlight any dysfunction in their relationships. But little do we know that it'll highlight a whole lot more than just bad relationships. It'll take the very concept of family and turn it into something horrifying.

    Questions About Family

    1. When do you first sense that everything's not quite right with Jack and his family? Why?
    2. What is Delbert Grady's reason for killing his family? How is it connected to Jack's situation?
    3. When does Jack turn against his family for good? What provokes the shift and why?

    Chew on This

    The Shining destroys any notion we might have that families have a natural love for each other.

    The Shining reminds us that family abuse is usually something you can see coming from a mile away.

  • Violence

    It's fair to say that there's a teensy, weensy bit of violence in The Shining. You know how the movie opens with Mr. Ullman telling Jack about how a former caretaker of the Overlook Hotel killed his family with an axe and shot himself in the head with a shotgun? And that elevator full of blood? And that decomposing woman in the bathtub?

    And if that weren't bad enough, it looks like Jack Torrance wants to axe his family—maybe he's just following Outlook tradition. He fails in the end, but not before offing poor old Mr. Hallorann. We can ask all sorts of questions about what makes Jack snap: maybe it's the isolation or maybe it's demonic possession. But whatever the cause, the effect is always the same—bloody violence.

    Questions About Violence

    1. At what point did you realize that Jack was going to get violent with his family? Why?
    2. Why do you think Delbert Grady wants Jack to kill his family? What's the point?
    3. When does Wendy start believing that someone other than Jack hurt their son's neck? Why?

    Chew on This

    In The Shining, we learn that the cause of violence can sometimes be really tough to figure out.

    The Shining reminds us that violence can come from anywhere, even someone who's just feeling really bored.

  • Isolation

    Isolation can be hard on a person, especially when that person feels like a total failure and they think that the book they're working on is their only chance at being relevant. And when that same person has total writer's block and can't write a single word. And when he's already kind of a violent dirtbag.

    Mr. Ullman talks about the dangers of isolation early in The Shining, but Jackie boy doesn't pay attention because he thinks he'll handle it just fine. Well it turns out that isolation will get to him a lot more than he thinks. Or maybe it's just demonic possession… it's hard to tell.

    Questions About Isolation

    1. Do you think that isolation is one of the main factors contributing to Jack's downfall, or is it something else? Why?
    2. Why do you think isolation has such a strong effect on people? Do you think isolation can drive a sane person crazy? Why or why not?
    3. Is Jack concerned about how the isolation of the Overlook will affect Wendy or Danny? Why or why not?

    Chew on This

    In The Shining, we see that isolation is totally capable of driving a sane person crazy.

    The Shining reminds us that the longer a person is alone, the more that person will resent people intruding on their isolation.

  • The Supernatural

    It's never really confirmed one way or another if there's supernatural stuff going on in The Shining, but there are some pretty strong clues. Yes, you can explain away most of what Wendy, Danny, and Jack see as hallucinations. And yes, maybe it's just a coincidence that Mr. Hallorann comes running from hundreds of miles away when Danny needs help.

    But what about the part where a ghost apparently lets Jack out of the food storage closet? Or what about the bruises on Danny's neck? Whatever way you slice it, the evidence overwhelmingly says that there's something more than just madness going on at the Overlook Hotel.

    Questions About The Supernatural

    1. In your opinion, what's the most "supernatural" thing that happens in this movie? Why?
    2. What actually happens to Danny when he visits room 237? How do we know or not know?
    3. Which characters have horrifying visions in this movie? Which ones don't?
    4. How do you think Jack really gets out of the food storage closet? Why?

    Chew on This

    In The Shining, Stanley Kubrick always keeps us guessing about the boundary between madness and the supernatural.

    One of the creepiest things about The Shining is that we're never really sure of what's real and what's not.

  • Madness

    In The Shining, it can be really tough to tell the difference between the supernatural and the product of people's warped minds. For example, Jack's weird conversations with Lloyd the bartender could totally happen in his mind. But how do you explain being let out of a locked closet… by a ghost?

    It's possible that Jack could be suffering from some sort of demonic possession. But you have to admit, the guy must have had a bit of the crazy in him long before he ever came to the Overlook. There's a darkness inside him that the hotel seems to take advantage of.

    Questions About Madness

    1. What do you think sends Jack over the edge into madness? Was he always a little crazy? Why or why not?
    2. Do you think Danny is crazy? Why or why not?
    3. At what point can Wendy start to see some of the hotel's horrifying visions? Is there a psychological explanation?
    4. What is it about the Overlook Hotel that has a way of driving people mad? Try using specific references to the movie to support your answer.

    Chew on This

    In The Shining, we learn that madness is relative to the people around you. If everyone is mad, then everyone is sane.

    The Shining reminds us that given the right conditions, anyone is capable of going crazy.

  • Youth

    Stephen King (author of The Shining) was smart enough to know that children can sometimes be downright creepy. Anyone can tell you that kids are sensitive to stuff that adults aren't, but King uses this same idea to suggest that kids have access to bad knowledge that adults don't. So much for the whole "Kids are innocent" thing.

    If anything, this movie suggests that adults are more naïve than kids when it comes to some of the darkest parts of the human mind. Just ask Danny's "friend" Tony and see how he answers—he answers with an elevator full of blood.

    Questions About Youth

    1. When did Danny first start talking to Tony? What do you think provoked him to develop this new relationship?
    2. Why do you think Danny sees the scary hotel visions before either of his parents do? Is it just because he's a kid? Why or why not?
    3. Do you think Jack is an abusive father (you know, before the whole axe murdering spree)? Why or why not?

    Chew on This

    In The Shining, we learn that children aren't nearly as innocent as we like to think. If anything, their minds are much darker than those of adults.

    The Shining reminds us that as we get older, we lose touch with our surroundings while kids remain super sensitive to them.