Analysis of Chapter 1 of the Gunslinger
Stephen King’s classic introduction to his famous “Dark Tower” series is his greatest claim to fame, and may very well be one of the most influential “Post-Apocalyptic” style books in the lost 100 years. The name of this hallowed piece of marvel? The Gunslinger. The Gunslinger is a perfect example of a novel that follows the classic criteria of answering questions with more questions. Stephen King’s magnificent work is the ideal balance of symbolism and entertainment, all the while held together by endless literary talent. The Gunslinger is the ideal novel to represent the genre of post-apocalyptic fantasy.
The Gunslinger is riddled with symbols, motifs, and recurring themes. One of the most common symbols is the “Devil Grass” which, in Dr. King’s wonderfully constructed fantasy realm, is the equivalent of marijuana. Our main character, Roland, often speaks of the Devil Grass as a societal barrier, separating those who are addicted to it, and those who aren’t. King never mentions anything about a high associated with the Devil Grass, but surely makes it clear that those who chew or smoke the Devil Grass are shunned from society. Another such motif is the saying “The world has moved on.” Roland often thinks back to when he was a child, and remembers a world where he trained to be a warrior skilled in the techniques of gun-wielding. Yet every time he thinks about his parents, or his childhood friends, he always snaps out of his flashback, remembering that “The world had moved on.” What Roland means by this is not revealed in “The Gunslinger”, and leaves the reader questioning what he could possibly mean by that phrase.
In the beginning of “The Gunslinger” Roland reveals himself to be on a quest to kill the “Man in Black” who seems to hold some kind of answers that Roland doesn’t just need to know, he has to know. While searching for the Man in Black, Roland finds himself in a small town, which he soons learns was a stopping place for the Man in Black. Roland constantly fears that the Man in Black has set a trap for him, but never seems to know what, or who, the trap is. What reason does Roland have to fear the Man in Black to such a high extent that he would follow him all the way across the desert, just to end his life? The most sensible idea about the Man in Black is that he symbolizes Roland’s “crusade”. Roland has been on the path of righteousness for his entire life, but could the Man in Black be his symbol of all that he fears? The Man in Black, simply put, is Roland’s greatest failure, one which he can’t live with. The Man in Black is the one who got away.
During Roland’s travels through the desert, he meets many new people, some of which bring up questions that boggle the reader’s mind. One such character is Nort, a strange man sitting in a pub. Roland sits down at the bar of the pub, and orders a beer and three burgers. Roland is wary of the trap that the Man in Black set, but he isn’t sure what it is. Out of the blue, Roland sees a man standing next to him, who is literally chewing the Devil Grass. He then dumbfounds Roland by addressing him in the High Speech of Gilead, a language that died along with Roland’s people. Roland’s memories of the “high speech” are a recurring symbol, and most likely carry the idea of nostalgia, and Roland fiercely guards these memories, which remind him of why he chose the path that he did.
Stephen King’s novel “The Gunslinger” brings up an endless number of questions, even within the bounds of the first chapter alone. This literary masterpiece is a prime example of flooding a reader with questions, which succeed in creating a sense of connection to the suffering of the characters in his novel. But Stephen King’s ability to weave a tale is not the only significant point in his novel. King loaded “The Gunslinger” with symbols and motifs, which hold significant cultural value. King truly has a gift for creating a powerful, yet relevant book, which easily holds its own against the test of time.