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In, The Shining, it is often argued that Jack starts the story as the primary antagonist, one that he would have gone down his path regardless of his choices, however, King breaks down Jack Torrance’s flaws and inner demons that allow him to be a tragic hero. Jack does not start as a murderous killer, but rather as a father trying to do the right by his family. He might have a mighty temper, but he always tries his hardest to keep it under control. On his path to become the antagonist of the story, he first undergoes a downward spiral from sanity, caused in part due to his past and the haunting experiences brought forth with it.
Initially, Jack Torrance is introduced as a caring and determined father, one ready to turn his life around. Jack is shown to have a deep and sincere love for his son, that he truly loves his son. While on the phone, he looks over his son and expresses internally, “Jack felt a wave of near desperate love for his boy,” (King 52). It is clear that Jack clearly loves his boy a lot, and he seems to be proud of that fact. This would be a driving factor for him to want to do better by his family. It is this love for his son that often helps him stay centered throughout the story, as his love for Danny appears to have a stabilizing effect on Jack. He appears to be determined to finish his play and continue to stay on the wagon. After some time had been spent in the Overlook hotel things begin to settle into normalcy, “Down the hall, in the bedroom, Wendy could hear the typewriter Jack had carried up from downstairs burst into life for thirty seconds, fall silent for a minute or two, and then rattle briefly again. […] Jack had not been writing so steadily since the second year of their marriage,” (King 174). During his job interview near the beginning, Mr. Ullman informs Jack, “‘Yes, Mr. Shockley told me you no longer drink,’”(King 10). Jack has sworn off drinking, a destructive behaviour that was on the verge of tearing his marriage apart, and has resumed his focus back on his literary works. In the Overlook, away from all the stresses of life, being with his loving family, he can continue to work on the play he had never been able to finish.
Throughout the book, Jack’s temper seems to grow and flare a little out of control, despite being kept under control for months by him. Jack vows off losing his temper in a big way, especially after he just lost it and lashed out at Danny. Introspective about the event that had just unfolded, Jack internally converses with himself, “(from now on you will hold your temper. No. Matter. What.)” (King 198). Every time he would lose his temper at Danny, it would mean pushing his family away further. His temper has caused his family lots of grief when he was drinking, and now that he is sober it scares them even more since it could mean that he might slip back into his old self. Indicative of his shortening fuse, Jack lays bare his rage towards Ullman in a phone call, one in which he has no idea why he called in the first place. Contemplating his actions after the call, “He sat on the stool breathing hard, a little scared now, wondering why in the name of God he had called Ullman in the first place. (You lost your temper again, Jack.)” (King 268). His already short and fiery temper, one that he had under control, continues to grow further out of his control, to the point it even has him questioning the shortsightedness of his actions.
Following outbursts and breakdowns, it is Jack’s haunting past that contributes to his downward spiral in the Overlook hotel. When Danny stutters a bit after experiencing trauma, Jack lashes out at him, the same way he did back at Stovington. Danny, just beginning to recover after one of this “Tony visions” is confronted by Jack, “ ‘Don’t stutter!’ Jack suddenly screamed into his face. Danny cried out in shock, his body going tense, trying to draw away from his father, and then he collapsed into tears,” (King 181). His loud outburst towards Danny is very identical to the similar confrontation he had with George Hatfield, back at the Stovington debate team. His outburst further continues to distance himself from Wendy, not dissimilar to when he had broken Danny’s arm in a drunken stupor. In Jack’s mind, Wendy never truly forgives him for what he did to Danny’s arm, that she may never truly absolve him of his past actions, that she will remain forever skeptical of him. After a dangerously explosive argument with Wendy, Jack comes to a harrowing conclusion, “Things had never really changed. Not to Wendy. […] She was always going to assume the worst; if he and Danny got in a car accident with a drunken blind man who had had a stroke just before the collision, she would silently blame Danny’s injuries on him and turn away,” (King 346). Wendy would never completely forgive Jack for his actions, she has spent far too long exposed to the drunk and temperamental Jack, at least that is how Jack feels. To Jack, Wendy will forever resent him, will always be ready for the day where he relapses; regardless of if he changes or not, she will always be ready for the day he slips up again.
Jack does not start out on the path to becoming the terrifying antagonist he is by the end of the book, it is his inner demons and experiences that shape his dark path, King illustrates this by his creation of the tragic hero narrative. The caring father, trying to do right by his family, to support them when no one else would. A man with a fiery temper, desperate and determined to keep it under control, to spare others of his rage. Afflicted with a rough and troubled past, contributing to his downward spiral towards his homicidal insanity.
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