Suffer the Little Children

This study guide will help you analyze the short story “Suffer the Little Children” by Stephen King (1972) published in Cavalier. We will show you examples of elements in the text that will be relevant for your analysis. In these notes, we will focus on the summary, structure, characters, setting, narrator and point of view, language, theme and message.

Stephen King (b. 1947) is an American writer, popular for his preference for literary genres like horror and supernatural fiction. Many of his books are bestsellers and some have been adapted into films. Some of his most well-known works are Carrie, The Shining, and Misery.

Excerpt from the study guide: 

Robert's inner characterization suggests that he is a flat character. He does not change and his main trait is defiance. From the beginning until the end, his attitude towards Miss Sidley indicates smugness, defiance, and disrespect: “Robert looked at her blandly, questioningly. His hands were neatly folded. (…) He did not look frightened.” ; “She waited for him to drop his eyes. He didn't. He looked back at her, and presently a little smile began to play around the comers of his mouth.”

When he is alone with Miss Sidley, he intentionally frightens her and reveals his true identity. He is a monstrous creature, who has taken over real Robert’s body: “ ‘Robert - the other Robert - he liked Show and Tell. He's still hiding way, way down in my head.’ The smile curled at the corners of his mouth like charring paper.”

After Miss Sidley returns to school following her month off, he continues to simile at her defiantly. When he is taken into the sound-proofed room to be killed he does not beg for his life. He tries to scare Miss Sidley again with his real appearance and informs her that there are many others like him: “Robert smiled innocently. ‘There are lots of us, though. Lots more than here.’ He put one small scrubbed hand on the paper-tray of the mimeograph machine. ‘Would you like to see me change again?’ ”

However, when Miss Sidley has shot Robert, he appears to be a normal boy again, suggesting that Robert’s changing appearance may just have been in Miss Sidley’s head. On the other hand, it is possible that Robert is an alien creature that has taken over the body of a little boy.

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Suffer the Little Children

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