Misery Summary

Stephen King


  • Plot overview and analysis written by an experienced literary critic.
  • Full study guide for this title currently under development.
  • To be notified when we launch a full study guide, please contact us.

Misery Summary

SuperSummary, a modern alternative to SparkNotes and CliffsNotes, offers high-quality study guides that feature detailed chapter summaries and analysis of major themes, characters, quotes, and essay topics.  This one-page guide includes a plot summary and brief analysis of Misery by Stephen King.

Misery is a 1987 psychological horror novel by American novelist Stephen King. One of King’s most popular and successful books, it focuses on Paul Sheldon, a prolific novelist best known for his Victorian-era romance novels starring the character Misery Chastain. One day, Sheldon crashes his car in a snowstorm and is rescued by Annie Wilkes, his self-proclaimed biggest fan. She takes him to her house, ostensibly to treat his injuries, but once she finds out that he killed off the character of Misery in his latest novel, she turns violent and keeps him prisoner to force him to write a new book changing the character’s ending — no matter what it takes. Misery explores themes of obsession and unhealthy identification with fictional characters, while also serving as a musing on the writing process. King has spoken about how Sheldon’s struggles with writer’s block and his desire to branch out beyond his most famous genre and characters are based on feelings he experienced. Misery was nominated for the World Fantasy Award for Best Novel in 1988, and was later adapted into a Hollywood film starring James Caan and Kathy Bates (who won the Academy Award for her performance as Annie Wilkes). It has been staged as a critically acclaimed and Tony-nominated Broadway play.

As Misery begins, Paul Sheldon, the author of the wildly popular Misery Chastain novels, has just finished the manuscript of his new crime novel, Fast Cars. He checks out of the Hotel Boulderado in Colorado, where he has completed the first draft of all his novels since 1974, and makes an alcohol-influenced decision to drive to Los Angeles rather than fly back home to New York. However, a snowstorm hits on the way, and he drives off a cliff and crashes into a snowbank. He is rescued from the crash by Annie Wilkes, a former nurse who lives in Sidewinder, Colorado. Rather than take him to the hospital for treatment for his shattered legs, she puts him in her guest bedroom, puts his legs in crude makeshift splints, and gives him pills from her illegal stash of painkillers. At first, she proclaims to be his biggest fan, but when she reads the manuscript for Fast Cars, she becomes angry at its violence and profanity. She begins acting cruelly towards him — spilling hot soup on him, withholding his medication. Paul starts to realize that Annie is dangerously disturbed.

The final installment in the Misery series, Misery’s Child, has just hit the shelf, and when Annie finds out that Misery Chastain dies at the end (so Paul can reestablish himself as a mainstream writer), she flies into a rage. She leaves Paul alone in the house for two days without food, water, or painkillers. Paul goes through extreme withdrawals. When Annie returns, she forces Paul to burn the manuscript for Fast Cars and presents him with a typewriter that she expects him to use to write a new Misery novel that will resurrect the character. Paul plays along, knowing Annie is capable of killing him. He attempts to escape when she is out, but her phone does not work and he is nearly caught. While snooping around her house, he finds evidence that she may be a serial killer, possibly killing her family and multiple patients from her time as a nurse. He steals a knife, planning to kill her.

Annie, whose mood swings are getting worse, reveals she knows Paul has been sneaking out of his room and punishes him by cutting off his foot with an axe. She later cuts off his thumb when he complains about a missing letter on the typewriter. A police officer nearly rescues Paul at one point when Paul alerts him, but Annie ambushes the officer and kills him, then moves Paul down to the basement. Paul eventually finishes writing Misery’s Return and calls Annie to read it. He is aware she plans to kill them both once she has read it, because the police are closing in on the killer of their dead officer. He convinces her to let him have a single cigarette to celebrate — and uses the match to seemingly light the manuscript on fire. While she tries to put out the flames — which are spreading to her clothing, he slams the typewriter down on her. The two engage in a brutal fight, with Annie suffering a series of brutal injuries but getting up every time. Eventually, she grabs Paul, starting to strangle him, but collapses from her injuries. Paul crawls his way to the bathroom and swallows painkillers, collapsing.

Eventually, Paul slowly crawls his way out as two policemen approach the house. He gets their attention, and he is terrified when they say they did not find anything inside. He passes out screaming, but eventually comes to and finds out that Annie had made her way to the barn to get a chainsaw, but died from her injuries on the way. Returning home to New York after his hospital stay, it is revealed that Paul burned a decoy manuscript of Misery’s Return, and he submits the book to his publisher, who tells him it will be his biggest hit and urges him to write a nonfiction book about his ordeal. However, he continues to struggle with nightmares, writer’s block, and withdrawal from painkillers. This leads him to become an alcoholic. It’s only when he randomly encounters a boy with a pet skunk that he feels inspired to write again for the first time, weeping over his typewriter.

Stephen King is an American author of horror and supernatural fiction, and one of the most successful and prolific American writers of all time. In addition to fifty-four full-length novels (including seven under his pen name Richard Bachman), he has written six nonfiction books, and nearly 200 short stories, most of which have been collected in anthologies. Many of his stories are set in his home state of Maine. He has received Bram Stoker Awards, World Fantasy Awards, and British Fantasy Society Awards, as well as the Grand Master Award from the Mystery Writers of America, and a National Medal of Arts from the United States National Endowment for the Arts. Dozens of movies and TV shows have been adapted from his works, including the Oscar-nominated The Shawshank Redemption, widely considered one of the greatest films ever made.