Wasps in The Shining

I finished The Shining yesterday, and, like I said, I got a lot more out of reading it this time. There are so many recurring themes and symbols, but the one of the most obvious ones are the wasps. (My edition is the Iconic Terror one, from 2011. ISBN 978 1 444 72072 3)

The symbolism of the wasps is introduced during Jack’s contemplative internal monologue in chapter fourteen, Up on the Roof. On his own, up on the hotel roof, he discovers a wasps’ nest under the shingles, and gets stung by one of its inhabitants. The symbolic importance of the nest is literally spelled out for us in this passage: Jack muses that it

“could serve as both a workable symbol for what he had been through […] and an omen for a better future” – p.117

and that

“he had unwittingly stuck his hand into The Great Wasps’ Nest of Life. […] Could you be expected to behave as a thinking human being when your hand was being impaled on red-hot darning needles?” p. 118-119

Of course, my analysis differs somewhat from Jack’s. He sees himself as the passive victim of the wasps, while I would argue he is as much an active wasp himself as a victim. He compares all the bad things that have happened to him to being stung by wasps, but as we know he isn’t the only one who has been stung. And, as we also know, he’s wrong about them serving as a good omen. This is not the last time someone gets stung by a wasp in The Shining.

The nest, now de-wasped, is moved next to Danny’s bed on Jack’s initiative. Waking up from a nightmare, Danny finds three wasps crawling on his hand, and he gets stung eleven times. Jack and Wendy wake up and try to kill the wasps. Wendy also gets stung.  “Jack, you said they were dead” Wendy says, accusingly. Jack puts a bowl over the nest to contain any other unlikely survivors. As he returns to the bowl after seeing to Danny’s hand he discovers that its inside is completely covered with wasps.

“One thought played over and over in his mind, echoing with (You lost your temper. You lost your temper. You lost your temper.) an almost superstitious dread. They had come back. He had killed the wasps but they had come back.” p.148

The wasps, rather than symbolising the bad things that have happened to Jack, symbolise the bad things done by Jack, and probably most prominently his alcoholism and its effect on his family. He stopped drinking, he killed his wasps, but now they’re up at the Overlook and the wasps have come back, and they have stung all three of them, most of all Danny. It’s not a good omen for the future, it’s a foreshadowing of how Jack will further hurt his family.

However, the symbolism of the wasps is extended beyond this. Jack is also a victim. The Hotel itself represents the nest, and its apparition the wasps. They sting Jack until he loses his mind. As he puts it himself, that day up on the roof,

“When a dozen wall wasps land on you all at once and start stinging your face and hands and arms, stinging your legs right through your pants, it would be entirely possible to forget you were seventy feet up. You might just charge right off the edge of the roof while you were trying  to get away from them.” p.116

Another interesting aspect is how the snowmobiles are compared to wasps. The one in the shed has the appearance of one, and the one ridden by Hallorann sounds like one. I couldn’t quite place the snowmobile within my own analysis, so I looked it up. It showed me an alternative way of looking at the wasps, as a creative block. Jack is also thinking creatively up on the roof, considering his play, and the wasp stinging him interrupts that. The snowmobiles fit neatly into this analysis as they are what would take Jack away from his perceived creative haven, the Overlook.

Another thing I haven’t quite been able to form an analysis for, but that I need to look up, is the presence of mirrors and duality.

What do you Think of The Shining? The wasps? Any other symbol that grabs you? Please let me know in the comments :)


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