Text Mining: Rage

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Rage (1977)

Today we turn our attention to the first Richard Bachman book, Rage, a book that lives up to it’s name in as pure a fashion as you could imagine. If you haven’t found a copy of this yet, you might want to get on that: they aren’t making any more of them, at the behest of the author. As the events depicted in the book came into depressing vogue in the 21st Century, King feared that the portrayal of Charlie Decker would give aid and comfort to others in similarly desperate emotional situations.

It’s about a school shooter, you see.

Charlie Decker has been failed by everyone around him and himself. His father is an appalling beast of a regular middle class man; he’s the archetype for every Boomer father figure that came out of the Second World War as a socially functioning monster. Charlie himself is hormonal, confused, and frustrated; he can’t get laid, he can’t see a future, and his father and society are pushing a toxic, brutal form of masculinity on him. Sound familiar? Charlie Decker is the Platonic form of the incel, decades before we thought to give any sort of sociological demarcation to them. Charlie’s also the product of his age; in 1977 it would have been harder for him to get his hands on any serious firepower, so he held up his class with the Gun Found In His Father’s Drawer (a King trope that crops up several times).

Of course it’s not entirely about Charlie’s unraveling mental state and his murderous actions. It’s also a warped, psychotic proto-Breakfast Club where a bunch of late-Seventies demographic-cross-section kids confront each other, stop being polite, and start being real; or, as Charlie calls it, it’s about these kids “getting it on.” The ultimate lesson there is that everyone is faking it to make it look like they have their lives together, but underneath is a mess of neuroses brought on by parents and society; again, it’s literally the same lesson and outcome as The Breakfast Club, only there’s a dead teacher on the classroom floor, a gun in Bender’s hand, and a strong undercurrent of seething anger. In a way it’s the perfect novel for 1977, that weird, legendary year when punk and hip hop were both born and the crisis of capitalism had come around once again.

So what does it look like in the sort of sentiment analysis terms we’ve been examining? Well, kind of like this:

RageSoundwave

It may be the length of the book that provides a clearer snapshot with this visualization. After all, Carrie and Rage are similar lengths (Rage being the shortest yet) and they have clearly defined arcs in this graph, while Salem’s Lot has a much harder to define overall look. With Rage we can see a case of rising action, climax (or a twin climax, 25 and 29), and denouement.

In terms of overall sentiment, this one is a sharply more negative book than Salem’s Lot. The most positive chapter only scores a 22 while the most negative chapter is a -47, with a mean negativity of -9.2 – quite a bit more negative on average than Salem’s Lot. Which, on the surface, bears out; Salem’s Lot is a carefully plotted vampire novel full of creeping language and uneasy terror, where Rage is a much more vicious, spastic kind of negativity. It’s written in a profoundly angry, though feverishly gleeful tone; it’s as though it’s the literary voice of Randall Flagg. The change in language contributing to sentiment score shows this as well:

RageWordDistribution

“Fell” and “dead” were the big contributors for Salem’s Lot but here it’s “pig”. There’s a lot of symbolism wrapped up in that observation and we should unpack it before moving on to the plot points. “Pig” was a word favoured by Charles (Charlie) Manson and the Family. Seven years before the novel in question was written, the word was scrawled across the front door of a Los Angeles home in the blood of murdered, pregnant Sharon Tate. Rage taps into the same sort of apocalyptic anti-establishment anger that Charles Manson was trading in when the Sixties died, and the usage of the word “pig” throughout the book ties it further into that Manson pattern. Charlie Decker really only lacks the race-war fantasies that drove Manson; he has the murderous tendencies and disdain of society down pat.

On the other hand, the word “pretty” contributes much more to what scant positive sentiment there is in the book than any of the negative words do to their own side. This can be a little misleading, however. Sure, a lot of Charlie’s unspoken (and sometimes spoken) focus is on his -and everyone else’s- inability to get laid, and so when he describes women the word “pretty” comes up organically but Charlie also uses “pretty” as a modifier in his particular voice:

And pretty quick he was going to be mad. That made him dangerous. Who knew better than me? I was going to have to protect myself. I was ready, and had been ever since I decided that people might-just might, mind you-be following me around and checking up.

So there’s a certain false reading going on there…meaning the book is even more negative than the sentiment analysis initially shows.

The plot peaks look like this:

RagePlot

Using 25/-25 as a cutoff as we did with Salem’s Lot, we can see that there are no positive peaks, only negative ones, and once again those peaks tell the story.

5: We are introduced to the biggest adversarial relationship in the book, Charlie and his beast of a father, on a camping trip that gets ugly once the men start drinking.

11: Charlie kills two teachers and announces the theme of today’s class: “Getting it on.” Ends with Sandy’s astute observation:

In town the fire whistle on the Municipal Building began to scream, rising and falling in hysterical cycles.

“It’s like the end of the world,” Sandra Cross said softly.

I had no answer for that, either.

16: Another examination of Charlie and his father, again the underlying man vs. man of the book.

20: The sentiment low-point of the book, where Charlie encourages the class to get real with each other and two girls, Grace and Irma, begin to claw each other’s eyes out as he urges them on. This is the “Lord of the Flies” moment as the kids lose the fact that they’re in a school shooter situation and start remembering all the pressure, social and otherwise, that they’re under. The confrontation between the two girls is sexual in nature, of course; Grace likes it, Irma is against it on religious grounds, and so their tussle is supposed to be a battle between the old-world religion of these kids’ parents and their burgeoning hormones. At any rate, the language both use (especially Irma with her repeated use of the word “whore”) drives the sentiment down into the basement.

21-22: The negativity hovers below the magic number as more acrimonious talk among the class (mostly directed at Future Business Leader of America Ted) and Charlie tells another story about why he is the way he is, this time because of his social humiliation at a girl’s birthday party.

23: (Relatively) Huge positive peak that marks out the climax in the actual school shooter plot line of the book. The book is about “getting it on”, and in 23 the class, emboldened by the talk about sex and the stripping away of masks, finally crosses over to Charlie’s side and proceeds to “get it on.” In conversations with the besieging police force outside, the kids in the class get raucous and clearly side with Charlie in this whole mad circus. Then Charlie gets shot.

25: A plummet back into negativity while Charlie recovers from being shot as Sandy informs us that sex – a big key driver of the seething frustration of the book – ain’t all it’s cracked up to be.

29: The final big negative peak of the book is the bizarre climax of the whole affair, if we consider the book to be about the inner workings of Charlie Decker’s head. In 29 Charlie tells us about how he assaulted his teacher with a pipe wrench and got kicked out of school, and about how his father assaulted him with a belt in the garage and that there was a moment where he’d held a hatchet with the clear intention to kill his father. This is where the whole book was leading – up to the first violent pulse, the reason that two teachers are lying dead at his feet by this point in the narrative.

After 29, Charlie glosses through the denouement; there isn’t much detail about how he gets taken down, and very matter-of-fact stuff about his eventual trial. The sentiment definitely goes up over the course of the epilogue, finishing over 0, even with the little turn-down right at the end that seems to be a pattern, although of what still isn’t really clear.

A better way of visualizing Rage at a glance, then, would be like this:

RageSentOverTime

Where the trough of the graph is actually 20-25, where the class gets it on, Charlie gets shot, and everything gets more positive from there, peaking at the end.  This is a smooth-line scatterplot; I ran a least-squares scatterplot originally, as with Salem’s Lot, and while it showed a very slight tendency to the same sort of linear relationship between sentiment and time, the actual regression model showed that the relationship was not statistically significant (p=0.3). The progression of sentiment in Rage is a much more dynamic path than in Salem’s Lot.

Again, in these early days, this doesn’t really tell us a huge amount but establishes ground work for identifying patterns. It also doesn’t tell us much as a Bachman book since it’s the shortest of the five and could be showing sentiment patterns that are amplified by its small size. One thing we can say about the book is that once the climax begins it stretches itself out over a quarter of the book but whipsaws us with emotion, exploding out of the tester jabs that King/Bachman throws with a left-right-left flurry that says everything it needs to. This comes across as different from the slow creep of Salem’s Lot or the grungy loud-soft-loud dynamic of Carrie. Comparison to the other Bachman novels and those to other contemporary King novels will reveal if this is a pattern or an outlier.

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