Aspects of Mimetic and Antimimetic Narratives in Stephen King’s IT

Black and white scribble art depicting a hand holding a calligraphy pen, scratching on a sheet of paper. Source: https://www.pinterest.com/pin/735634920356474407/

by Sarah Uhlig

As the fabula of Stephen King’s IT develops, The Loser’s Club gains an understanding of how their world was created and the true setting they live in. Within IT, King introduces two alien creatures, The Turtle and Pennywise, both of whom are essential in the revelation of worldly knowledge and understanding. While this is a fictional horror story, we can use the theoretical ideas of Mikhail Bakhtin, Monika Fludernik and Brian Richardson to better recognize the aspects of mimetic and antimimetic narratives, which can offer an opportunity to study the chronotope and the presence of natural narratology within IT. More specifically, we can understand how Pennywise, the antimimetic antagonist of the novel, can be limited by the mimetic boundaries of the chronotope and its inhabitants.

Mikhail Bakhtin developed theories on the concept of the chronotope, the “space and time configuration” specifically found in narratives of literature (Bakhtin 389). In relation to IT, King’s story takes place in Derry, Maine, a quiet town where the unnatural, as Fludernik claims, can secretly roam and inhabit. The chronotope within IT is an ordinary, mimetic reality, specifically focused in the 1960’s to the 1980’s timephrame. As the fabula of the narrative develops, we learn that the chronotope expands beyond the understanding of the ordinary people within the story, leaving children as the only witnesses to Pennywise. Members of The Loser’s Club, such as Bill Denbrough, encounter creatures such as Pennywise and The Turtle, both of which offer an opportunity to provide insight into the true realities of their shared universe.

By understanding the chronotope, we can recognize how the presence of these fictional characters within Derry not only provides limitations for the actions of the fictional, but they disrupt the patterns of the ordinary. The developed understanding of these fictional and non-fictional characteristics in this realistic environment can be explained by Richardson’s terms, mimetic and antimimetic. Richardson develops this concept of antimimetic narrative by saying that writers who are “striving for realism or are reproducing the conditions of lived experience” are limited within the boundaries of reality in their writing (Richardson 21). Not only did King limit himself within his work by including Pennywise in such a plain and uneventful town, but Pennywise is extremely limited in how he can live within the town.

Pennywise is an unusual and noticeable character who distinctly “smells of dirt and long-gone vegetables…the smell of a monster” (King 7). King’s design in the structure of the chronotope and the characterization of Pennywise allows readers to see these character limitations. We can understand some of these limitations by recognizing Pennywise as a predator who naturally needed to hide in the ditches, the sewer, and the darkest parts of Derry to survive without being caught. The mimetic boundaries of the chronotope left Pennywise as an outsider and thus, a more secretive, scarier antagonist.

As we recognize Pennywise as an antimimetic outsider in a realistic setting, we can see how Pennywise controls the progression of the narratives fabula. When Pennywise would murder children, the town grieves, even though they do not understand that an alien creature was responsible. Pennywise’s actions of secretly hunting, stalking, and killing are the main events, within the narrative, that move not only the story forward, but the efforts of The Loser’s Club to stop Pennywise.

Due to the secretness of Pennywise’s actions, the presence of a bright colored, dancing clown within a usually quiet and ordinary town would ordinarily lead people to wonder where the rest of the circus is. Some might simply wonder why there is a horrific looking clown walking around a boring old town in Maine. Ordinary characters outside of The Losers Club do not ask these questions because the chronotope and the mimetic boundaries limit Pennywise’s exposure to the public. 

Whether King designed the novel with these narrative theory intentions, the mimetic aspects of narrative are the controlling and “real world limitations” that prevent antimimetic beings from existing in society without creating a disruption in the mimetic environment patterns (Richardson 377). Considering Richardson’s point, the physical characterization of Pennywise in his clown disguise makes It seem oddly human. Fludernik described a requirement of mimetic narratives, that they must have “a human or human like protagonist at the center” (Fludernik 6).  While Pennywise isn’t the protagonist of IT, King’s decision to make Pennywise’s character in resemblance to a human form allows us to question why this was the most horrific design to go with. Fludernik expresses her ideas on the connections readers form with mimetic characters because of their realistic experience or connectability, which is why human like characters are essential to narratives.

 Considering this, readers may wonder if King’s characterization of Pennywise originated from realistic human fears of children or if the behaviors of Pennywise originated from those who are considered outsiders in society. While these are some significant claims to make about Pennywise, we need to consider Fludernik’s point about the value of “emotions readers feel in response to fictional characters” and how it connects to the value of fictional literature” (Shang 452). Due to the actions of Pennywise, characters such as Bill Denbrough grieve over the loss of his little brother George and we, as readers, feel sincere sympathy for him.

Pennywise uses luring tactics of manipulation to control his prey, just as he said to The Loser’s Club when It told them to “Come on back, lets finish our business in Derry. Bring your jacks and your marbles and your yoyos!” (King 908). These actions are not the based on true emotions, but they are the appropriate ways to emotionally control children who are bounded within their “mimetic realm” in Fludernik’s ideas of “natural narratology” (Fludernik 365).

While we know Pennywise is incapable of expressing emotions and has a human clown shape form, we might question how we classify Pennywise as an antimimetic creature when Its real shape is a spider. King’s choice of a human disguise and the true spider identity of Pennywise should be questions that relate to Richardson’s ideas of how “characters and the narrative act that produces the narrative closely correlate with real-world scripts or schemata (Richardson 114). Especially considering The Turtle as the creator of the universe of the IT chronotope, these antimimetic beings have identities that stem from “the surrounding content or environment which embeds ‘existents, their attributes, and the actions and events of which they are involved” (Richardson 117). 

Whether these characterizations stem from King’s personal experiences with turtles and spiders or if these characters are developed from human emotions, these antimimetic creatures originated from real human experiences. In contradiction with Fludernik’s classifications of narrative as a limited and defined idea, Pennywise is an example of an antagonist whose actions “allowed readers to immerse themselves in a different world and in the life of the protagonists,” The Loser’s Club members (Fludernik 6). Pennywise is never a character who will be forgiven or recognized as a good being within the chronotope of IT, but this antimimetic character and Its characterization offers great examples of how we can analyze the chronotope and use the ideals of natural narratology to understand how an antimimetic character, such as Pennywise, can be limited by mimetic realms.

Citations

Alber, Jan, et al. “What Is Unnatural about Unnatural Narratology? A Response to Monika Fludernik.” Narrative, vol. 20, no. 3, 2012, pp. 371– 382 . , www.jstor.org/stable/23322087. Accessed 26 June 2021.

Alber, Jan, et al. “Unnatural Narratives, Unnatural Narratology: Beyond Mimetic Models.” Narrative, vol. 18, no. 2, May 2010, pp. 113–136. EBSCOhost, doi:10.1353/nar.0.0042.

Fludernik, Monika. An Introduction to Narratology. Routledge, 2010.

Fludernik, Monika. “How Natural Is ‘Unnatural Narratology’; or, What Is Unnatural about Unnatural Narratology?” Narrative, vol. 20, no. 3, 2012, pp. 357-370., www.jstor.org/stable/23322086. Accessed 26 June 2021.Lawson, James. “Chronotope, Story, and Historical Geography: Mikhail Bakhtin and the Space-Time of Narratives.” Antipode, vol. 43, no. 2, 2011, pp. 384–412., doi:10.1111/j.1467-8330.2010.00853.x.

Phelan, James, and Peter J. Rabinowitz. Understanding Narrative. Ohio State University Press, 1994.

Shang, Biwu. “Unnatural Emotions in Contemporary Narrative Fiction.” Neohelicon: Acta Comparationis Litterarum Universarum, vol. 45, no. 2, Dec. 2018, pp. 445–459. EBSCOhost, doi:10.1007/s11059-018-0455.

Published by modcasters

We’re a group of graduate students studying English Literature and Language on a mission to discuss literature, provide access to those on the deafness and/or blindness spectrum, and rock mustachios.

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