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Living Under a Dome: Parallels Between Stephen King’s Epic and Our Planet

01/15/2012

Warning: I try my best to avoid spoilers below, but minor details concerning the book’s plot are given.

Stephen King’s epic novel Under the Dome begins with a gigantic, invisible dome that materializes around the fictional town of Chester’s Mill, extending thousands of feet into both the air and ground, and cutting the town off from the outside world.

I wouldn’t consider that a spoiler, since it happens within the first four pages, and I won’t tell you the Dome’s origins. But as I read the longest book King has written, I was struck repeatedly by the notion that if our society’s mounting energy crisis ever results in major disruptions in the supply chain, the resulting social breakdown would probably look something like what happens in Chester’s Mill.

The dome descends without warning, and whether the global food chain would grind to a halt as quickly is in question. How high do fossil fuel prices have to get before stocking grocery stores with long-distance import becomes unfeasible? How low must oil reserves get?

And how much advance notice would we have? Perhaps not much. Given the tendency of oil companies, governments and even organizations like the International Energy Agency to overstate oil reserves, the prevailing public impression of our energy situation may not be altogether accurate at any given time.

Even once the Dome’s existence becomes widely known in Chester’s Mill, the citizens aren’t very proactive about it. They cope with the situation’s strangeness by descending en masse upon Sweetbriar Rose, a local cafe, and dining until well after the restaurant’s usual closing time. There is no immediate rush on the town’s grocery store, and no one starts rationing food. Most of the town goes home assuming that the whole thing will have blown over by morning.

Image credit: patheos.com

Not everyone makes that assumption, of course. Iraq war vet Dale Barbie, now a cook at the Sweetbriar Rose, discusses the restaurant’s propane situations with owner Rose Twitchell, and they determine that by being energy efficient and by closing between mealtimes, they have enough for a month at most–and that’s only because Rose ordered propane the week prior.

Meanwhile, at an emergency meeting of the town’s selectmen, Second Selectman Jim Rennie–who, through highly questionable means, effectively rules the town–authorizes the hiring of several new police officers without giving them any training. Just until “this situation works itself out.”

The consequences of the town’s utter isolation manifest quickly. A newly hired policeman throws the town drunk into the side of a truck, and shortly after, the new police officers control a crowd by shoving them, kicking them and, in one instance, punching someone in the face.

The environment quickly shows signs of deteriorating, as well. The Dome grows steadily darker as emissions from cars and oil furnaces build up, and the temperature within steadily rises–a pretty clear analogy to our treatment of the Earth’s atmosphere. As the air quality decreases inside the Dome, leaves start to hang limply from branches.

The reaction of the town’s government is highly reminiscent of those who deny that global warming is occurring. “They’ve been saying it for years, haven’t they?” Jim Rennie says at one point. “The scientists and the bleeding-heart liberals….Melting ice caps! Killer hurricanes! Global warming! Chickendirt weak-sister atheists who won’t trust in the will of a loving, caring God….Contrary to the beliefs of the secular humanists, the sky is not falling.”

Sounds a bit like the Republican presidential candidates.

Despite his trust in God, the Second Selectman does plenty to seize the reins of power. In the interest of avoiding spoilers, I won’t give any specific details about how he does this, but suffice it to say he behaves like a typical despot.

Okay, I will give one detail: he employs agent provocateurs to entice a crowd to riot, in similar style to that of certain police departments who sought to disperse last year’s Occupy protests.

Image credit: open.edu

In conversation with an army official positioned outside the Dome, Rose Twitchell describes the situation like this: “All you guys can do is watch. Like kids looking into an aquarium where the biggest fish takes all the food, then starts eating the little ones.”

Speaking on a related topic at one of several secret town meetings, Jim Rennie says, “I hate the idea of rationing–it’s un-American to the core.”

But gradually, the citizens of Chester’s Mill catch on that the town’s resources are limited. And once people make the realization that severe hunger and discomfort is on its way, they tend to get a lot less polite.

7 Comments leave one →
  1. 01/15/2012 5:26 PM

    Just started reading this because I finished 11.22.63 which is the best king book I’ve read since The Stand ( and I read that decades ago!) Only just started it though – a gopher just got chopped in half.

    • 01/16/2012 11:41 AM

      I hadn’t heard of 11.22.63 until you just mentioned it. I’ll have to check it out!

      I didn’t much like The Stand. I saw Under the Dome as a much improved take on similar themes.

      Regarding the gopher–you ain’t seen nothing yet!

  2. Raven Warren permalink
    01/16/2012 2:17 PM

    “The Dome grows steadily darker as emissions from cars and oil furnaces build up, and the temperature within steadily rises–a pretty clear analogy to our treatment of the Earth’s atmosphere.” This is my favorite part of the post. Reading this piece with the photo of the dome underneath sends such a profound message.

    • 01/17/2012 2:59 PM

      I’m glad you liked it :) Thank you for inspiring me to put more time into each post rather than writing more frequent, less in-depth posts.

  3. 01/19/2012 12:41 PM

    The question is, when will the citizens of our real-life planet realize that our resources are severely limited? And demand that more be done about it?

    I may have to read this one. Many years ago, I used to devour King novels as though words were food and I was starved, and then I just kinda stopped. Perhaps it’s time to go back?

    • 01/24/2012 12:57 AM

      It could be! I had a look at 11/22/63, the one trixfred30 mentioned, the other day in the book store, and it looks pretty interesting, too.

  4. 04/02/2012 10:08 PM

    I like your content…but I think you will like mine better.

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