The novel features many of the themes and images that readers of Stephen King’s books will be familiar with. These include familial bonds, alcoholism, disembodied evil forces, and the fight for survival.
‘Spoiler-Free’ The Shining Summary
The Shining follows the three-member Torrance family as they move into the Overlook Hotel for the winter season. As the new winter caretaker, Jack Torrance is responsible for the upkeep of the hotel during the off-season. As he works and tries to maintain his sobriety, his family deals with the evil presence lurking within the hotel.
Jack struggles and eventually fails to fend off the hotel’s evil influence. He turns to violence, as past guests have, and his family has to fight for survival. It’s up to his son, Danny, to figure out how he and his mother, Wendy, can escape with their lives intact.
The Shining Summary
Spoiler alert: important details of the novel are revealed below.
Stephen King’s novel begins with the antagonist, Jack Torrance, being interviewed for a new job. That of the winter caretaker at the Overlook Hotel. The hotel, which depends heavily on summer tourism, is closing for the winter. But, it is going to be Torrence’s job to look after the building. The manager, Stuart Ullman, is interviewing Jack and admitting his reservations about hiring the man.
But, he does so on the advice of his friend Al (who is also friends with Jack Torrance). Ullman tells Jack that while at the hotel, he and his family (his wife and his son), are going to be completely isolated. But, Jack believes that everything is going to be all right. He’s going to have a play to work on to keep him occupied and his wife and son will be able to stay busy as well.
Within the first pages, readers receive information about the history of the hotel. A previous winter caretaker, Grady, murdered his wife and twin daughters in a drunken rage. This makes the manager think about Jack’s background. He was fired in the past for losing his temper at work and is currently in recovery from alcohol abuse.
Readers later learned that Jack has recently broken his son Danny’s arm while drunk. Additionally, his marriage is on the rocks. His wife, Wendy, has considered divorcing him and has experienced a great deal of embarrassment and stress over his addiction.
Ullman and Watson show Jack the hotel’s boiler room. In what is one of King’s best examples of foreshadowing, Watson reminds Jack that he has to check the boiler consistently. If he doesn’t, the pressure will build and it might explode. This would destroy the entire hotel. It’s during this tour that Jack also learns that death is not a thing of the past at The Overlook. A woman died fairly recently, only last season, after being abandoned by her lover.
Danny, Jack’s son, despite suffering from his father’s drinking and his parent’s confrontations, still loves his father. He’s far more worried about his parents getting divorced than he is about his own safety. As readers are introduced to Danny, who is five years old and the true protagonist of the novel, they learn that Danny has some form of supernatural powers. When he’s able to concentrate, his friend Tony comes into his mind. Tony shows Danny something dark in his future. That is, a dark figure chasing him with a mallet and the word “Redrum.”
The three-person family arrives at The Overlook Hotel and meets Dick Hallorann, the chef who works at The Overlook during the summer season. Dick shows them around the hotel and the kitchen. He lets them know that all the alcohol that was previously present in the hotel was consumed before the building closed.
Dick has insight into Danny’s supernatural abilities, something he calls the “shine.” Dick too can see into people’s minds and sense their emotions. But, his powers are not as strong as Danny’s are. He tells Danny that as someone who is extra sensitive to supernatural forces, he may struggle at The Overlook. There are dark forces at the hotel, Dick says, but they can’t hurt him, he tells Danny. But, if he needs the man’s assistance, he can send him a telepathic message.
It’s not long before the hotel makes its negative presence known to the family. While Jack is working on the roof he is stung by wasps and mentally returns to his past. He considers his relationship with his own abusive father, who is a drunk (as Jack is), and also remembers breaking his son’s arm. Jack gets bug killer for the wasps, dispatches them, and later gives Danny the nest as a gift.
Later, Tony returns to Danny and he again sees the word “Redrum.” Danny falls into a trance, scaring his parents, and having more visions of the mysterious word. Later that night, the wasps swarm out of the nest, stinging Danny. No one can understand why or how the wasps survived. But, Danny’s parents take him to the doctor the next day.
As the novel progresses, Jack and the family learn more about The Overlook Hotel, a ball that took place in the past, and The Overlooks organized crime connections. Despite promising Dick Hallorann that he’d stay away from a specific room in the hotel, Room 217, Danny is drawn to it.
Jack, Danny, and Wendy are continually influenced by the hotel. Wendy worries for her son while Jack’s temper grows shorter and shorter. At one point, Jack even thinks that he sees the topiaries, cut into the shape of animals, outside the hotel moving.
Jack Torrance continues his recollections of the past, including a terrible memory in which his father beat his mother with a cane. He hears his father’s voice coming out of a radio, telling him to kill his family. He smashes the device, something his wife catches him doing. This is yet another event that makes Wendy concerned for her husband’s and son’s well-being. One night, Danny wakes up and tries to tell his parents about the woman he sees in Room 217. His neck is covered in bruises, injuries that Wendy worries her husband inflicted.
While she continues to worry about her son she asks Jack to take them into town on the snowmobile. But, rather than working on the vehicle and ensuring it runs, Jack throws away a part crucial to its operation. Later, Danny runs into a ghost outside in the concrete playground, while also seeing the moving animal topiaries. He tries to tell his father about it but Jack slaps him, unwilling to believe that what he thought were hallucinations are real.
On December 1st, Danny receives a vision that ensures him that “Redrum,” whatever it is, is going to happen soon—on December 2nd. He calls to Halloran telepathically for help, knowing that his family desperately needs it.
One of the stranger images of the novel appears the next morning. That is, a man crawling on the ground wearing a dog costume. His face is bloody and he threatens the five-year-old.
Jack drinks at the bar, experiencing a party that occurred in 1945. He’s thrilled to be there, alongside Delbert Grady, a previous winter caretaker who murdered his family. Jack sees himself killing his son, and continues to drink. Wendy finds her husband passed out at noon the following day. In fear of what he’s going to do, she locks him in the pantry. He screams threats at her, attempting to get out. It’s at this point that all the negative forces in the hotel appear to be converging.
Jack feels betrayed by his family, and finally understands, in his evil-addled mind, why his father beat his mother. Grady, one of the more malevolent forces in the hotel lets Jack out of the pantry. He assaults his wife with the mallet and she runs through the hotel, trying to escape him. At the same time, Dick Hallorann arrives at the hotel, called by Danny’s “shine.”
Jack chases Wendy through the hotel, and she attempts to lock herself in the bathroom. He breaks through and she slashes at him with a razor. Outside the hotel, Dick fights with the topiaries, attempting to set them on fire. He gets inside, and Jack hits him with a mallet. One of the most famous scenes in the novel plays out as Jack races upstairs to give Danny his “medicine.” While all of this is occurring, Danny is talking to Tony. He reveals to the child that he is Danny himself, but ten years in the future.
Danny is smart enough to realize that the hotel is taking over his father’s mind and body. Jack breaks away from the trance that he’s been in for long enough to tell Danny to run and that he loves him. But, Danny refuses. It’s at this point that Danny remembers what Jack “forgot.” That is, to check the boiler. Jack runs in a panic to the cellar while Wendy, Dick, and Danny escape the hotel. The novel ends with a boiler exploding while Jack is down in the cellar. The hotel tries to exert its influence on Dick before the group can get away, but it fails.
The last scene is of Wendy and Danny moving to Maryland and sitting outside in the sun enjoying the warmth, a strong juxtaposition to the cold, dark setting of the Overlook Hotel.
What is the main theme of The Shining?
The main theme of the novel is the destruction of families. The Overlook exerts its evil influence, in multiple ways, to tear the Torrance family apart. It has successfully done so in the past, and the novel alludes to the fact that it would continue to do so in the future.
What is the evil in The Shining?
The evil is a hotel itself. Residing within its walls are a variety of evil forces that seek to destroy love and familial connections. Previous residents, like Delbert Grady, still reside in the hotel and attempt to exert their influence on Jack Torrance, Danny, and Wendy.
Who is the killer in The Shining?
Jack Torrance is the antagonist of the novel, along with the broader evil forces of the hotel. It convinces him that he needs to turn on his wife and son and kill them.