Literature: The Long Walk
The Long Walk
is a novella by Stephen King
published under the pseudonym Richard Bachman in 1979 as a paperback original. It was collected in 1985 in the hardcover omnibus The Bachman Books
, and has seen several reprints since, as both paperback & hardback. The plot revolves around the contestants of a grueling walking contest
, held annually by a despotic and totalitarian version
of 1980's America. The rules of the eponymous Long Walk are as follows (at least the ones that are mentioned in the novel):
- Consistently maintain a speed of at least 4 MPH
- No aid is to be given by a civilian to any Walker, nor should a Walker accept it
- Interference with any of the Walkers, even by another Walker, is strictly forbidden
- Falling below 4 MPH for 30 seconds, or violating any other rule, incurs a Warning
- If a Walker manages to go on walking for an hour without receiving a Warning, one of his Warnings is removed
- If a Walker violates a rule when he has accumulated three Warnings already, he "buys a ticket" out of the Walk
- If a Walker leaves the road, he instantly buys a ticket
- The last Walker remaining wins "The Prize" - anything he wants for the rest of his life
Not to be confused with the retirement option for judges
This work provides examples of:
- All There in the Manual: Only some rules of the Long Walk are mentioned, but the ones that get the most mention are Hint 13 (conserve energy whenever possible) and Rule 8 (no interference with other Walkers).
- Alternate History: A blink-and-you-miss-it example where Garraty narrates about a landscape view reminding him of the German air-blitz on the American East Coast during the last days of World War II. Other examples include a comment about an official who lost a leg to radiation storming a German nuclear bunker in 1953, suggesting the war went on for around another decade, and a mention of April 31 as the day before the Walk begins.
- Ambiguous Ending: Garraty wins the walk but what exactly happens after that isn't clear. Is the dark figure Death? Is it a hallucination brought on by his exhaustion? Is it merely another person in the distance? Or is it something else altogether?
- Ambiguously Gay:
- McVries seems to have feelings for Garraty that extend beyond friendship at times. At one point, he asks Garraty "Would you let me jerk you off?" Although his relationship with Priscilla would make it closer to ambiguously bi.
- Also, Garraty. After all, he doesn't exactly say no when McVries offers to jerk him off. The opposite, in fact. He says "Whatever you want". That's practically an invitation.
- And I'm the Queen of Sheba: After Gary Barkovitch introduces himself to Olson, Olson sarcastically replies, "I'm John Carter. My home is Barsoom, Mars."
- Big Brother Is Watching: Anyone who is too "political" or vocal against the government is taken away by the Squads.
- Black Dude Dies First: Subverted, but just barely. Ewing is the first Walker mentioned to be black, and he is the second to die. The first dead Walker's ethnicity is not mentioned.
- Bolivian Army Ending: Garraty wins the Walk, and breaks into a run after his last competitor buys his ticket. The novel ends without letting us know his fate, although it's implied that he's gone insane from the stress.
- Bread and Circuses: The Long Walk is a popular source of entertainment for citizens across the country, inspiring billions of dollars in wagers and huge crowd turnouts along the route.
- Cry into Chest: Garraty cries into Olson's chest in the middle of Olson's Rasputinian Death
- Day of the Jackboot: The United States has been turned into a dictatorship after the second World War ended in a stalemate and the US fell into a renewed depression as a result.
- Deadly Game: One hundred teenage boys are selected to participate in the titular "Long Walk" and only one is left alive by the end of it. Assorted remarks by the Walkers indicate that very few, if any, of the winners live long enough afterward to enjoy the Prize.
- Death Seeker:
- Pete McVries. He once had a romantic relationship with a girl that fell apart due to financial differences between the two and this is the reason he signed up for the Walk in the first place. Pearson even wonders how badly McVries wants to die.
Pearson: Jesus, what do you think? He oughta be wearing a 'BEAT ME HARD' sign. I wonder what he's trying to make up for?
- Garraty becomes one by the very end. He's so mentally and physically worn-down by that point that he only wants to keep walking, and thinks his prize will be his own death. A dark figure then appears to guide him on, who may or may not be The Grim Reaper.
- Deer in the Headlights: One of the stories told about past Walks is about one participant who completely froze up at the starting line and bought his ticket without taking a single step.
- Determinator: What you have to be to even make it to the halfway point, let alone win. A particularly gruesome example is Hank Olson, who makes it just past the halfway point entirely on sheer force of will as both his body and his mind had completely broken down by then. He even gets shot through the gut and that doesn't immediately faze him.
- Disappeared Dad: Garraty's dad had negative views against the government and was very vocal about it, going so far as to take Garraty to see a Long Walk when he was younger so that Garraty could see how horrible it was. He was ultimately "Squaded," slang for being taken away by the Squads and possibly Released to Elsewhere.
- Driven to Suicide: Barkovitch. He rips out his own throat.
- Exactly What It Says on the Tin: The Long Walk.
- Face Death with Dignity: Scramm, knowing full well he can't finish the Walk with such an advanced case of pneumonia, and Mike, one of two Hopi brothers who gets struck with severe abdominal cramping. Instead of just falling over and taking it, Scramm says his goodbyes, talks with Mike who bids goodbye to his brother, and walks into the escorting half-track's path. They flip the half-track off, insult the soldiers approaching them and sit down to talk while they wait for death.
- Get a Hold of Yourself Man: When Garraty experiences a fit of laughing madness and incurs three Warnings during said fit, McVries intervenes, holding Garraty up to keep him going so he doesn't get a ticket and attempting to verbally coax him out of it. Eventually, McVries slaps Garraty to get him to snap out of it before he gets his ticket, getting himself a Warning in the process of this act.
- Go Out with a Smile: Pete McVries When he feels he can't go on for much longer, he sits down in the road and smiles at Garraty as he is shot by the soldiers.
- The Grim Reaper: The dark figure Garraty sees at the end. Maybe. See Ambiguous Ending.
- Heroic Vow: Once word gets out among the Walkers that Scramm has a pregnant wife after Scramm himself is going to die, they make an agreement that whoever wins the walk will help his newly made widow.
- Jerkass: Gary Barkovitch. Not only does he manage to make enemies out of most of the other Walkers, but he even manages to goad an already-enraged and violent Rank to exhaust himself, resulting in his elimination.
- Jerkass Has a Point: As unpleasant as Barkovitch is for the most part, he points out that Scramm shouldn't have entered the Walk if he had a kid on the way.
- Kill 'em All: Every contestant save for Ray Garraty dies during the Walk, and it looks he won't have long to live either, even though he won. It's mentioned earlier in the story that most of the previous Walks' winners died not long after due to the immense physical and psychological strain it placed on them.
- Killed Offscreen: Obviously, a lot of non-characters among the boys get this treatment, but two of Garraty's friends are also unceremoniously offed out of sight or between chapters: Harkness, and much later, Pearson.
- Laughing Mad:
- Meaningful Name: Barkovitch. Taking "Bark" or "B...itch", his name helps paint him as a rabid dog—which he is most prominently when he provokes another boy so much that the kid buys his ticket, and again when he rips out his own throat.
- These wordplays aside, his name actually has its origin in the Balkan states. "Barko" would be the name of a patriarch, and the -"vitch" ending marks it as a typical Yugoslavian patronym. The correct writing would be "Barković", though.
- Barkovitch's appearance speaks for this, since the narration states multiple times that he has dark eyes, dark hair and olive skin (generally describing a Southern European appearance). Which of the Balkan states the character is supposed to be from (if at all!), is up to Stephen King, though.
- Never a Self-Made Woman: The only girls and women who are mentioned (especially by name) or appear in the plot action are girlfriends and family members of the Walkers, who are all male. Justified, though, because the Long Walk only allows male teenagers to compete and the plot is basically the events of the Walk.
- Noble Savage: The Hopi Indian brothers Mike and Joe, who lead the pack. One of them even gets to Face Death with Dignity sitting in front of a halftrack.
- Nobody Poops: Averted. Much is made about how the Walkers unzip to pee right as they are Walking. As well, one Walker dies because he stopped to squat due to a case of diarrhea and incurred three Warnings as well as buying his ticket before he could even finish up his business. Also, a big deal is made about Baker squatting to pass a turd on the road and surviving, incurring only two Warnings in the process.
- No, You: This exchange.
Woman: He(Garraty) won't last much longer.
Garraty: Your tits won't last much longer!
- Playing Doctor: Garraty recalls how he and a boy named Jimmy Owens once did this when they where five years old, and Jimmy's mother caught them in the act.
- Punctuated! For! Emphasis!: Olson gives two examples as he is trying to hang on for just a little longer.
Garraty: God's garden? What about God's garden, Olson?
Olson: It's full. Of. Weeds.
Olson: I don't. Want. To die.
- Pyrrhic Victory: Garraty is the Pyrrhic Victor of the eponymous Long Walk by virtue of having outwalked 99 other male teenagers. However, he's also watched most of them die, including those he had established a rapport with, and is at the point where his physical and mental health have greatly deteriorated and he welcomes the prospect of his own death.
- Raging Stiffie: Gribble, who feels up a young woman watching the walk. The sexual frustration is enough to slow him down sufficiently to incur his ticket.
- Rasputinian Death: Hank Olson is shot in the belly as he climbs up onto the halftrack. The next two bullets knock him to the ground, then he takes three more, and then he starts to sit up. More shots lay him out, but he manages to get to his feet and start walking, even though his intestines are now spilling out of his body. After he finally falls dead, the soldiers put two more bullets in him and take him away.
- Released to Elsewhere: At the beginning of the book, all the reader knows is that if a Walker commits any offense, then they get a Warning and if he commits one more when he's already got three Warnings accumulated, he "buys a ticket." It then turns out that "buying a ticket" is a euphemism for being shot dead by the soldiers on the escorting halftrack.
- Sanity Slippage: Practically everyone suffers from this at some point. Or at least, those who survive long enough do.
- Suicide Attack: Hank Olson and Collie Parker both try to overtake one of the escort half-tracks by force. Both of them fail, but while Parker gets off lightly even after killing one of the soldiers, Olson is made an example of.
- Someone to Remember Him By: No one featured directly in the plot gets pregnant with or is one of these babies, but Scramm has a wife who is pregnant with his baby and with his death has made the baby an example of this trope.
- There Can Be Only One: There is no set distance for the Walk. It just goes on until there is only one survivor.
- The Stoic: The soldiers. Their lack of emotion in dealing with the walkers is pointed out several times.
- Too Dumb to Live:
- Ewing wears sneakers despite the fact that the rulebook given to all the Walkers in advance explicitly tells them not to do so, as no other type of footwear will cause blisters faster on long distances. Predictably, he develops blisters after only two miles, and is ticketed after the pain becomes too great for him to maintain speed, becoming the second Walker to die. Garraty even discusses it in his internal monologue, and Barkovitch derides Ewing for it out loud.
- Percy tries to sneak away from the Walk under cover of darkness. Of course, it doesn't work—the soldiers have sophisticated tracking equipment. They shoot him as soon as he puts one foot off the road, and Percy should have known that would happen.
- "Well Done, Son!" Guy: Stebbins reveals that he is the illegitimate son of the Major and therefore, he only expects his "Prize" to be for him to "be taken into [his] father's house" and acknowledged as the Major's son.
- Why Don't You Just Shoot Him?: Averted. The soldiers on the half-tracks have no problems shooting Walkers under any circumstances, although they still have to give out the mandated three warnings unless the Walkers directly attack the vehicles.
- An interesting example with Olson, who has bought his ticket and been shot multiple times in the belly to the point where his intestines are spilling out, but he keeps right on walking. After he finally falls dead, the soldiers shoot him a few more times for good measure and then carry him off.
- It's notable that most of the kills the soldiers deal out are quick and clean, but it's remarked in the story that because Olson confronted the soldiers directly, his death is deliberately drawn out so that other Walkers will think twice before trying to confront the soldiers as well.
- Several Walkers pass out on the road, but the the soldiers still stand there and give the unconscious bodies their three warnings before shooting them. Rules are rules, after all.
- One Walker ends up having his feet run over - and obliterated - by the halftrack. The soldiers still call out his warnings over his screams, despite the fact that there is no way he can continue.
- Your Head A Splode: The very first elimination gives everyone a good idea of how serious the rules of the competition are.