Cujo: A Contemplation of Karma and Evil

I love Cujo. I don’t take the word love lightly, and I rarely apply it to anything, let alone a book. Mind you, I do have a soft spot in my heart for Stephen King; sometimes I absolutely hate his work, but more often than not I am left with something to think about – Cujo left me with a lot to think about.

Everyone has at least a vague idea of what this story is about, since the very name “Cujo” has made its way into the vernacular as a means of describing a particularly vicious dog. Regardless, the plot centers around Donna Trenton and her four-year-old son, Tad, who become trapped in their car while a rabid dog patrols outside of the vehicle. The car is dead, and there is no one in sight to help. Donna must struggle to devise a way to save herself and her son without being killed in the process.

That’s what is on the surface, at least, but as with all Stephen King books, the good stuff is what’s going on behind the scenes. One particularly striking aspect of Cujo is the parallel that King draws between the Cambers and the Trentons. Both families are in crisis – Donna Trenton has been unfaithful to Vic, and Charity Cambor is finally contemplating a divorce from her abusive husband, Joe. Both women exhibit selfish behaviors that threaten their marriages; however, Charity is thinking of herself for the first time in her marriage, while Donna’s infidelity is more difficult to justify. Her affair is definitely not for the good of her family, and seemingly not for her own benefit either, as she appears to immediately regret it. Perhaps that’s why the outcome is so different for each woman – one selfish act is merited, while the other is simply for self-indulgence and instant gratification. Moreover, Charity is given one last chance to change the course of events – right before leaving for Connecticut, Brett tells her that Cujo is sick. Charity knows that revealing this detail to Joe will put the entire trip in jeopardy, so she chooses not to tell him. This eventually results in the death of Tad Trenton and Joe Camber – a tragedy for the Trentons, but a stroke of luck for Charity and Brett. Ahhh, karma.

Asides from alluding to this universal karma, King also stresses the importance of a child’s intuition. Tad knows from the start that there’s a monster in his closet – his parents dismiss this as an ungrounded childhood fear, yet Donna can’t shake the feeling that something’s not right. As an adult, Donna cannot accept the supernatural until she faces it head-on, and even then, it still takes some convincing. Directly after becoming trapped in the Ford Pinto, Tad recognizes Cujo as the monster from his closet, not as the St. Bernard that he’s previously met. For Donna, though, it takes many hours of entrapment for her to realize that Cujo is more than just a rabid dog. Thus, children are able to detect things that adults have conditioned themselves not to see. Sadly, though, children tend to lack credibility in the adult realm, and in the world of Stephen King this often results in senseless deaths and tragedies.

The idea that evil can pass from one entity to the next is another particularly disturbing aspect of this novel. King indicates early on that although serial killer Frank Dodd is dead, his all-encompassing evil does not die with him; instead, it simply manifests another being – in the case, the ill-fated Cujo. It is stressed that Cujo has always been a genuinely good dog, and although the rabies initially turns him bad, there is clearly something darker that inhabits the dog as well. The concept that evil cannot be destroyed is troublesome and leaves readers wondering if there are good forces at work as well, or if everything is just hopeless. Some of King’s other novels delve into this notion more intricately, but the answer always seems inconclusive.

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