The theme of good versus evil within the novel, Salem’s Lot by Stephen King, seemed straightforward at first. Indeed, the vampires are a clear manifestation of evil, that big, bad, devil worshipping, drink your blood kind of evil. However, it becomes apparent that many people within the town itself are evil as well. This blurs the lines between good and evil. After all, people are supposed to be good and vampires are supposed to be evil in this kind of story. It is not that simple as it turns out. The story goes on to say that true evil is not mindless and without intent. True evil can only exist at the intersection between free will and choice.
The obvious evil in the story is the vampires’ actions. They are killing innocent people, but it is not for their own gain. “O my father, favor me now. Lord of Flies, favor me now. Now I bring you spoiled meat and reeking flesh. I have made sacrifice for your favor” (3.431). Barlow states he works for the Lord of Flies, which is also known as Satan. Barlow is doing the Devil’s deeds and recruiting more minions. Satan is the father of evil, so Barlow working for him would make Barlow’s intentions evil as well. It is not immediately clear if Barlow is acting with free will. Once a person has been turned into a vampire, they are forced to do evil deeds. There is no such thing as a good vampire since they will blindly follow orders from Satan’s minion, Barlow. “And in the awful heavy silence of the house, as he sat impotently on his bed with his face in his hands, he heard the high, sweet, evil laugh of a child - and then the sucking sounds” (7.215). Danny Glick, someone who has been turned into a vampire, has now changed from the good to the bad. He has lost his innocence of being a child and now carries out the Devil’s dirty work. Danny did not deserve to become a vampire, but other townspeople do.
At first glance the reader may assume that the townspeople are good, but this statement is far from true. This is where the line between good and evil becomes blurred. Many of the townspeople have dirty secrets they keep from everyone else. Some of these secrets could be seen as evil. Sandy McDougall has an ugly secret of her own. “I’ll tell Roy he fell off the changing table, she thought. He’ll believe that. Oh god, let him believe that” (3.44). Hitting your kid and lying about what happens is evil. Sandy McDougall is already an evil person before turning into a vampire. It is wrong and disgusting to hit your kid, especially a newborn. Obviously, this is not as evil as carrying out Lucifer’s bidding, but all evil is evil regardless if it is lesser or greater evil. One might make the argument that the greatest evil is a despicable act done onto the innocent. And, what could be more innocent than a baby?
What could be more evil than the vampires? Well, it could be argued that the townspeople are actually more evil than the vampires. This is because the townspeople have something that the vampires do not. The townspeople commit evil deeds with their own free will, while vampires do not. The vampires will commit monstrous acts, but it isn’t necessarily evil since there is no free will or evil intention involved. “Then, gone. But not before he saw, or thought he saw, a look of desperate unhappiness on her face” (12.212). When Susan was turned into a vampire she lost her free will. Susan was unhappy since she could not control herself from attempting such heinous acts. Susan was not an evil person at heart, she is just being controlled by a force greater than herself. The townspeople are more evil since there is free will behind their actions. They are committing lesser evil acts, but nonetheless they are choosing to commit them. There is no greater force making Sandy McDougall hit her baby. Sandy McDougall is not being controlled by Satan. She is the one who chooses to abuse her baby.
The townspeople have brought this terrible consequence onto themselves. The many lesser acts of evil done by the townspeople are made plain to the reader; sexual perversions, adultery, child abuse to name a few. Barlow, the vampire, is a symbolic punishment for the people who had secretly been carrying out these dark acts behind closed doors. This mass loss of faith in God led to the attraction of Barlow to the town. “If a man dethrones God in his heart, then Satan must ascend to his position” (492). Perhaps Satan sensed this and sent the vampire to take over the town, and claim it for his own. The townspeople being the true evil in this story has caused the destruction of their own town. The vampires symbolically represent the townspeople’s evil secrets coming to life.
In this story, you can not say the townspeople are good and that the vampires are evil. It is just not that simple. The lines between the concept of good and evil in this story are blurred. Being a vampire is far from good, but it is not truly evil either. A monstrous and violent act even committed randomly cannot be truly evil without the free will and intention. A shark, for example, that attacks a swimmer is a violent and random act. But, one would not call the shark evil as it is just doing what a shark will do. In the same way, the horrible deeds of the vampires are just those things that vampires do. The acts might be evil, but are the vampires truly evil? The theme of the story, good versus evil, is not just about good guys versus bad guys. Rather, the theme of the story explores what that definition of evil might actually be, and how these lines defining it are faded and blurred.
- King, Stephen. 'Salem's Lot. Cemetery Dance Publications, 2015.