Literature: Dolores Claiborne
First edition cover
Dolores Claiborne is a 1992 psychological thriller novel by Stephen King
. It went on to be the best selling novel of 1992. It was made into a 1995 film
Presented as a text transcription
of a voice recording by the police, the story introduces Dolores Claiborne, formerly St. George, an elderly maid from Little Tall Island, off the coast of Maine. She has been caring for her employer Vera Donovan for many years. Vera dies under suspicious circumstances, implicating Dolores, who had also been suspected of killing her husband Joe many years before. The novel begins as she voluntarily goes down to the police station in order to confess all about her role in both deaths.
The 1995 film adaptation
starred Kathy Bates
as Dolores, Judy Parfitt as Vera, Jennifer Jason Leigh
as Selena and Christopher Plummer
as (unique to the film character) Detective John Mackey.
Tropes present in the novel:
- Abusive Parents: Dolores Claiborne has a husband who, in addition to physically abusing her, has a decidedly unwholesome interest in their teenage daughter Selena, who suffered sexual abuse at his hands in addition to manipulation into being afraid of her mother in order to keep her from talking about it. It is this, along with the stealing of their children's college money in order to spite her, that would ultimately lead to Dolores's decision to murder him.
- The Alcoholic: Joe St. George, Dolores's husband.
- Alcoholic Parent: Joe.
- Annoying Patient: Vera Donovan gradually devolves from a strong-minded businesswoman to a feeble helpless old lady through the novel. It doesn't help that she maliciously craps the bed in order to make life harder for Dolores, her carer.
- Apron Matron: Dolores.
- Arc Words: Sometimes, being a bitch is all a woman has to hold onto.
- Aww, Look! They Really Do Love Each Other: When Joe is trying to drag Dolores into the well along with him, she has a sudden image of her neighbours finding their bodies together and thinking that they committed suicide like that to show how much they loved each other. The fact that people would think this gives her the strength to struggle free from his grasp.
- Character Title
- Clear My Name: The entire reason for the novel. While Dolores is responsible for her husband's death, Vera's death is a genuine accident.
- Convenient Eclipse
- The Coroner Doth Protest Too Much: Dr John McAuliffe tries to make Dolores confess that she in fact either murdered Joe or ignored his pleas for assistance but is unable (much to his frustration) to prove that she could hear him or that she had any part in Joe's death — he has to rule it death by misadventure.
- Country Mouse: Dolores, and proudly so.
- Curse of the Ancients: Dolores would use 'cheese and crackers' as a minced oath.
- Cut Himself Shaving: Although Joe does have a history of beating Dolores, she stopped him from doing so months before. She really, honestly did simply injure herself by accident. But the checkout lady refuses to believe her. However, both her and Joe do use the large bruise to let him save face by pretending that he gave it to her.
- Daddy's Girl: Joe and Selena, until he starts abusing her.
- Dead All Along: Donald and Helga Donovan, Vera's son and daughter who have been dead since The Sixties. This fact is unknown to Dolores until after Vera's death.
- Determinator: Dr John McAuliffe tries as best he can to prove that Dolores had something to do with Joe's death but is ultimately unable to do so, much to his frustration.
- Domestic Abuse: Joe, to Dolores but she soon puts a stop to that.
- Domestic Abuser: Joe.
- Double Standard: Abuse, Female on Male: Definitely subverted, as the scene in which Dolores stands up to Joe's physical abuse by smashing his face with a cream pitcher is chilly and definitely not played for laughs.
- The Fifties / The Sixties / The Nineties: When most of the action takes place.
- First Name Basis: Vera always called Dolores on her first name, but originally she called Vera "Mrs Donovan". After Dolores breaks down crying in front of Vera, she demands from Dolores to call her on her first name. "I insist that all women who have hysterics on my bed call me by my Christian name thenceforward."
- Hair-Raising Hare: Vera is tormented in her old age by visions of 'dust bunnies', which terrify her but that Dolores can't see.
- Hidden Heart of Gold: Vera.
- Hollywood New England: Set on the (fictional) Little Tall island off the coast of Maine.
- Hypocritical Humor: Vera is pretty insistent on not putting the hot baking on the windowsill to cool like 'shanty Irish' would do. Guess which country Vera Donovan's surname comes from?
- I Am Not My Father: Joe St. George, Jr does his very best to be the complete opposite of his father, who he hated. He ends up as a Democratic Party politician, a party his father hated (calling Roosevelt "Sheeny-velt").
- Jerkass: Vera Donovan, who in her old age intentionally soils herself in order to make life for Dolores harder.
- Joe, who sexually molests their daughter Selena, hits Dolores and squanders some of his children's college savings.
- The Loins Sleep Tonight: After Dolores stood up to Joe's abuse and humiliated him, he became impotent with her. So, he started to molest his daughter.
- Line-of-Sight Name: The place where Helga Donovan works is called Gaylord Fashion. Dolores finds out at the end that Helga died in 1961 and that Vera most likely made up the name because she had been born in Gaylord, Missouri.
- Make It Look Like an Accident: The way Vera advises Dolores to get rid of Joe. Dolores does.
'Husbands die every day, Dolores. Why, one is probably dying right now, while we're sitting here talking. They die and leave their wives their money
- Vera even hints that she offed her own husband by this line:
'I should know, shouldn't I? After all, look what happened to mine. An accident is sometimes an unhappy woman's best friend.'
- Mama Bear: Dolores puts up with years of physical and mental abuse from Joe because her main focus is giving her kids the best life she can by saving for each of them to go to college. But when she finds out that he's started molesting Selena and has cleaned out the kids' college savings, he has to die. She's very methodical about it, arranging to make it look like an accident and ensuring that none of her children are home at the time it happens.
- Meaningful Name: "Dolores" means "pains, sorrows" and is traditionally associated with the pains of Mary, the Holy Mother of Jesus. Throughout the novel, Dolores experiences a number of pains and sorrows, especially as a mother.
- Mercy Kill: Vera asks Dolores to do it to her after she falls off the stairs. Dolores promises to do so, but Vera dies on her own before Dolores could do anything.
- Miranda Rights: The novel starts with Dolores' annoyed reaction to having her Miranda rights read to her.
- Most Writers Are Writers: Selena is a journalist.
- No Sense of Humor: Joe whacks Dolores in the back with a fire log because she laughs at him.
- Not So Stoic: Dolores — when she finds out that Joe took the money out of the accounts as well as everything else he did, she breaks down crying in Vera's house.
Vera: You know, you startled the shit out of me, woman. All these years I wasn't sure you could cry - I thought maybe you were made of stone.
- Nouveau Riche: Subverted with Dolores. Although Vera's will leaves her well over $30 million, she doesn't accept it and donates it to an orphanage instead.
- Parental Incest: Joe, who sexually molests his fourteen year old daughter Selena over a number of months before Dolores finds out. This was one of several factors that eventually led to her killing him.
- Rich Bitch: Vera.
- Rolling Pin of Doom: The postman catches Dolores standing over a dead Vera with one. He wrongly concludes that she has killed Vera.
- Scottish English: Dr John McAuliffe speaks it, despite having lived in Maine since World War II.
- Scrapbook Story: The last bit of the novel has two excerpts.
- An excerpt from The Boston Globe about an anonymous donation from Dolores, out of Vera's will of $30 million to the The New England Home for Little Wanderers orphanage, and that the 'guardian angel' who sent it is completely serious about their anonymity.
- From The Weekly Tide, a section called "Notes from Little Tall". It informs us that Dolores is free and expecting a visit from her son Joe Jr and Selena (for the first time in twenty years).
- Shout-Out: Dolores threatens to send Joe to Shawshank Prison if he ever touches their daughter Selena again.
- Sir Swearsalot: Dolores, who says she is a foul-mouthed woman which probably comes from having lived a foul life.
- Stylistic Suck: The novel is intentionally written like a report of speech, which is what it is meant to be (Dolores is recorded on a tape by the police). As such, it lacks paragraphs and chapters.
- Sympathetic Murderer: Dolores. What pushed her over the brink wasn't her Joe's treatment of her, it was his treatment of their children — emotional abuse of Joe Jr, sexual abuse of Selena, and cleaning out the college savings accounts Dolores had worked long and hard to build up.
- Thrown Down a Well: Dolores leads her drunk husband on a wild goose chase to make sure he falls into the well, then she throws a rock on his head to make sure he died.
- Tomato Surprise: In-universe. When Dolores receives a call from Vera's lawyer about her inheritance, she is stunned to discover that Vera's two children, Donald and Helga, have been dead for decades and Vera was lying to her about it.
- Total Eclipse of the Plot: Dolores gets Joe to fall into the well out the back of their house during the real life Maine eclipse of July 20, 1963.
- Unexpected Inheritance: After Vera dies, Dolores is informed that she has left her entire fortune to her (in excess of $30 million). Dolores ends up giving it all to an orphanage.
- Woman Scorned: It's implied that Vera murdered her husband because he had been cheating on her.
Vera: But sometimes men, especially drinking men, do have accidents. They fall downstairs, they slip in bath-tubs, and sometimes their brakes fail and they run their BMWs into oak trees when they are hurrying home from their mistresses' apartments in Arlington Heights.
Tropes unique to the 1995 movie:
- Adaptation Distillation: The film removes much of the backstory and changes a lot of elements of the novel but at the same time...
- Adaptation Expansion: Christopher Plummer's character John Mackey is not present in the novel; his dedication to put Dolores away from life seems to be based on the Scots doctor from the novel, Dr John McAuliffe, who tried to catch Dolores out but was ultimately unable to prove she murdered him.
- Extremely Short Timespan : While the flashbacks go back over twenty years of Dolores's employment and family life, the main plot takes place over a weekend.
- Intrepid Reporter : Selena
- Ivy League For Everyone : Selena attended Vassar on a full scholarship.
- Total Eclipse of the Plot : The eclipse takes six and a half minutes, long enough for the climax of the flashback portion of Dolores's story.