Cujo Summary

Stephen King


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Cujo Summary

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Cujo, a Stephen King horror classic published in 1981, tells the story of a family dog turned rabid amid the seemingly mundane lives of two of Castle Rock, Maine’s inhabitants. This town is a frequent setting for King.

As the story opens, the Trentons have recently moved into town with their son, Tad. They are experiencing tension due to the wife, Donna’s, recently concluded affair and the failing of the father, Vic’s, ad agency.

The Cambers are long time residents, a blue-collar family in which the father, Joe, is an abusive mechanic. His wife, Charity, has recently won a $5,000 prize and uses the money to persuade Joe to take her on a trip. One afternoon, their sweet natured dog, Cujo, chases a rabbit through a field. As he attempts to find it, he sticks his nose into a small limestone cave where a rabid bat bites him. This bite transmits the disease rabies to Cujo.

At first, he acts like his usual self, but as the disease progresses and there is no one to take him to the vet, it overtakes his sweet personality, and he kills the neighbor, Gary Pervier. Joe returns home just as his family leaves town, and Cujo kills him as well.

Not knowing what is taking place at the property, Donna and Tad take the family’s Ford Pinto to Camber for repairs. Cujo attacks her as she gets out of the car, and when she tries to start the car to escape, it will not cooperate. As Cujo circles the car, she tells Tad not to worry. They will just wait for the engine to cool off, and it will start again.

The engine does not start, and the car begins to heat up in the afternoon sun. Every time Donna attempts to leave the car to find help, Cujo attacks. She honks the horn hoping for the neighbor’s attention, not knowing that he is already dead. She decides to wait for the mailman to arrive.

The Cambers have had their mail held at the post office for a few days, and when the mail carrier does not arrive, Donna becomes increasingly more desperate. Tad is dehydrated, and she knows that if they spend any more time in the hot car, it will have serious consequences.

Meanwhile, Vic is growing desperate after not being able to reach Donna for some time. The sheriff informs him that Steve Kemp, the man Donna was having an affair with, is suspected of kidnapping them both. The sheriff begins an investigation and arrives at the Cambers’ property. Cujo attacks and kills him.

Donna realizes after witnessing the attack that she must do something drastic. Tad will not survive much longer in the car, and so she strikes Cujo head on, sustaining significant injuries to her leg, but ultimately killing him. Vic arrives at the Cambers along with the police, but it is already too late. Tad has died of exposure.

Donna is taken to the hospital to recover. She is overcome with guilt that she did not do something sooner, as is Vic that he did not try the Cambers’ property sooner. She recovers, and their marriage survives, but they must pick up the pieces.

Charity and her son, Brett also have to pick up the pieces. Eventually, Charity gives Brett a new puppy, vaccinated, to cheer him up. The story ends with a note that Cujo was a good dog who only wanted to please his owners. His disease ruined him and drove him to such violence.

One of the major themes of Cujo is that of ordinary terror. Cujo is a sweet dog, one whose temperament is the perfect one for a family. It is only by chance that he is infected with the disease. Because no one is around to care for him, and because they did not bother to vaccinate him, he turns on his humans. We see a bit of Cujo from the first person, the way he transforms from loving his family to something monstrous.

There is also the horror of inaction. Donna is unable to bring herself to attack Cujo head on, but as each plan fails, she grows more and more desperate. If she had attacked him sooner, her son Tad might have survived. Also, if Vic had been more proactive in trying to find his family, he might have arrived in time to save his son.

The ordinary events that led to such a disaster could happen to anyone. Sometimes the greatest fear we have is one that arises out of normal daily circumstances. The family needed a mechanic, and this simple act changed their entire world. Being embroiled in their drama led directly to what happened, and sometimes human behavior is the scariest of all.

The thought of a powerful dog suddenly turning on his family is one that fills us with dread. All of us have considered what would happen if man’s best friend suddenly turned on us, and this idea is terrifying. King capitalizes on this “what if” to create one of his classic horror stories.