Misery Summary and Study Guide

Stephen King


  • 63-page comprehensive study guide
  • Features 119 chapter summaries and 5 sections of expert analysis
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Misery Summary and Study Guide

SuperSummary, a modern alternative to SparkNotes and CliffsNotes, offers high-quality study guides for challenging works of literature. This 63-page guide for “Misery” by Stephen King includes detailed chapter summaries and analysis covering 119 chapters, as well as several more in-depth sections of expert-written literary analysis. Featured content includes commentary on major characters, 25 important quotes, essay topics, and key themes like The Writing Process and Drug Addiction.

Plot Summary

Written in 1987, Stephen King’s psychological horror novel Misery tells the story of Paul Sheldon, a best-selling American author of a series of romance novels set in the nineteenth century, featuring the protagonist Misery Chastain. Paul finds himself in a “situation where he was not just writing for his supper but for his life” (122) when his self-proclaimed “number-one fan” (6), a middle-aged, former nurse named Annie Wilkes, rescues him from a car accident during a snow storm in Colorado. Annie’s fandom, though, turns out to be a dangerous obsession. Paul fights for his life as Annie’s mania turns more perilous and Paul races to finish the novel Annie has forced him to write, Misery’s Return.

Misery begins just after Paul’s car accident when Annie pulls him out of his car and drives him to her house, a remote farm outside the fictional Sidewinder, Colorado. Paul suffers severe leg injuries, which Annie sets crudely and treats with “a pain-killer with a heavy codeine base called Novril” (9). Paul had just left the Boulderado Hotel after finishing Fast Cars, his first novel that did not “feature Misery” (15). Misery “died five pages from the end of Misery’s Child,” the last novel in the Misery series (15). Drunk on celebratory champagne and caught off-guard by a storm, Paul crashes his Camaro while reaching for his cigarettes. Paul quickly realizes that Annie is “dangerously crazy” and is keeping him captive in her home (10).

After reading the Fast Cars manuscript while Paul recovers, Annie becomes upset about its “profanity” (23). Her anger causes her to throw a soup bowl against a wall, shattering it. After cleaning it up later, Annie forces Paul to use soapy water to swallow his Novril. When Annie finishes reading Misery’s Child and discovers Misery has died, she becomes so upset that she leaves Paul alone for days. When Annie returns, she forces Paul to burn his Fast Cars manuscript then buys him a Royal typewriter and tells him to write his “best novel,” Misery’s Return(67).

Paul struggles to come up with a convincing way to bring Misery back to life. Through Annie’s coercion and a “single, hesitant suggestion” (166), though, Paul manages to come up with something Annie describes as “good” and “exciting” (148). With a few exceptions, Paul and Annie fall into a kind of agreeable rhythm for the next three weeks. Paul writes “an amazingly straight life” engendered by his captor, Annie, who, for her part, remains cool and collected (165). Then the weather changes and Annie sinks into a depression, leaving Paul alone again.

During this time, Paul ventures out of his room and discovers a scrapbook, filled with newspaper clippings from Annie’s life. Paul discovers that Annie began murdering people at the age of eleven. During her career as a nurse, Annie murdered dozens of elderly people and infants. She was charged and tried for only one infant’s death, and though the jury believed Annie was guilty, they had “very reasonable doubts as to her guilt” (206). After this, Annie no longer worked as a nurse. When Annie returns from her “Laughing Place” where she goes to be alone, Annie tells Paul that his Camaro has been swept away in the spring snow melt (179). Annie then tells Paul that she knows he’s left his room multiple times. As punishment, Annie ‘hobbles’ Paul by cutting off his left foot with an axe.

Paul continues writing as he recovers from his amputation. He and Annie reach an uneasy peace until a young police officer named Kushner arrives at Annie’s house. Paul screams from inside his room then throws his ashtray out the window, getting the officer’s attention. Officer Kushner recognizes Paul as the missing writer he’s looking for, but Annie strikes and kills Kushner with her lawn mower. After this murder, Paul knows it’s all “almost over” for he and Annie (290). Paul decides he’s going to kill Annie before she can kill him.

State troopers Wilkes and McKnight arrive shortly after Kushner’s disappearance. They question Annie but don’t arrest her. This time Paul doesn’t try to get their attention. He’s resolved to finish Misery’s Return “in relative peace,” but also because he wants to kill Annie himself (310). After finishing Misery’s Return, Paul burns the manuscript in front of a horrified Annie, and then brings his Royal typewriter down on her back, breaking it. After severely injuring Annie, Paul crawls out of his room, locks the door behind him and hides in the bathroom. That evening, troopers Wilkes and McKnight return and rescue Paul. Paul is terrified to learn that the troopers didn’t find Annie in the house, though. He screams until he faints.

At the novel’s end, Paul is back in New York City, meeting with his editor about Misery’s Return. Though Paul’s publisher has ordered “an unprecedented first printing of a million copies” (344), Paul can’t relax. He’s replaced Novril with alcohol and still has major pains in his legs. Paul can’t write and has horrible visions of Annie coming to attack him, though he learns from the troopers that they found Annie dead from her injuries in her barn. Finally, seeing a boy on the street with a skunk breaks Paul’s writer’s block. He begins to write again and weeps over his typewriter.

Misery explores Stephen King’s own experiences with writer’s block, drug addiction, and feeling stifled by his reputation as a writer of horror novels. Through the extended metaphors of Paul’s simultaneous imprisonment by and dependence on his biggest fan, Annie, King shows the complicated relationship between writer and reader, as well as a writer’s own relationship to his process.

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Part 1: Annie