The narrator is Charles Everett "Charlie" Decker, a senior at Placerville High School in Placerville, Maine. The story begins in the morning, when Charlie is called to the principal's office from his Algebra 2 class. His principal, Mr. Denver, wants to speak to Charlie about an incident that occurred two months earlier, where Charlie had struck his chemistry teacher, Mr. Carlson, in the head with a heavy wrench, leaving the man with severe brain damage and unable to continue his teaching career.
For as yet unrevealed reasons, Charlie snaps and responds with a series of insulting and vituperative remarks towards Mr. Denver, which prompts him to expel Charlie from Placerville High School. Charlie storms out of the principal's office and retrieves a semiautomatic pistol from his locker. After setting the contents of the locker on fire -- and saving his Titus padlock, which he slips into his shirt pocket -- he returns to his classroom and fatally shoots his teacher Mrs. Underwood. The fire sets off an alarm and students are beginning to be evacuated. Charlie tells his classmates to stay seated and then shoots another teacher, Mr. Vance, after Vance enters the classroom to notify students of the alarm. The students and teachers evacuate the school and police, fire companies and the media arrive on the scene.
During the time that Charlie holds the class hostage, he shares with them key events from his life that he feels brought him to his current mental state. Charlie grew up with an abusive and aggressive father and a mother who would spoil him and prevent her husband from punishing their son. Charlie relates an incident when he was four when he implusively broke nearly all the storm windows his father was putting up in autumn: his father, enraged at the broken windows, picked Charlie up and threw him violently on the ground. When Charlie screamed in pain, his mother grabbed and hugged him and forbid her husband from hurting Charlie further or simply meting out any punishment. On a hunting trip with his friends that Charlie joined him on at the age of 10, Charlie wakes up late at night an overhears the drunken men talking round the campfire. The subject of marital infidelity is broached and Charlie's father says that if he ever caught his wife having sex with another man he wouldn't kill her or the other man but would instead castrate the man and slit his wife's nose according to a tradition he claims the Cherokee used. He also talks of humiliation he suffered when his mother insisted that he wear a gaudy corduroy suit to a casual birthday party and about the time he nearly lost his virginity when he accompanied his brother to a college party. The drugs that Charlie had been sampling all night left him with erectile dysfunction and he leaves the party embarrassed.
In one of his last stories, Charlie talks about how his father planned to beat him with his belt following the incident where Charlie maimed his teacher. The two fight in the garage, Charlie actually winning the upper hand when he manages to get the belt away from his father and hits him in the stomach, knocking the wind out of him. The two grab garden tools from the walls but soon decide to cease the violence and take Charlie to the emergency room to stitch up a severe cut on his cheek.
Charlie also has a violent verbal conversation with the school psychologist. With the classroom door still locked they speak via the school's intercom system. Charlie sets one rule; the psychologist is not allowed to ask a single question or he'll shoot one of his classmates. Charlie engages him with a rapid-fire series of inquiries, many of them offensive and personal until he blindsides the man by asking him what Jesus said while being crucified ("Father, why hast thou forsaken me?"). Having been tricked, the psychologist pleads with Charlie not to shoot anyone, but Charlie fires into the floor. He then cheerfully confesses that he didn't actually kill anyone.
Outside the classroom, the police plan to have Charlie shot by a sniper. They call in the county's finest sharpshooter who is given a high-powered rifle. When the man shoots Charlie, the shot hits the padlock Charlie had put in his pocket. Though he's flung back violenlty, Charlie is able to hold onto the pistol and still keep the class at bay.
Charlie also encourages his classmates to share their own difficulties with him. Ill feelings that had festered between several students come to the surface and the class eventually turns on one of the school's most popular students, the seemingly straight-laced Ted. Right before he lets them all go, the class has tied Ted up and humiliated him until he can only speak gibberish. After the students are set free, the chief in charge of the police outside enters the classroom. Charlie, unwilling to go quietly, raises his pistol and is shot four times non-fatally.
The story closes with Charlie being sent to a mental institution. He speculates that he'll probably never be set free. Charlie's best friend, Joe, sends him a letter when Charlie is allowed correspondance, but much of the letter is redacted as being potentially upsetting. In the end, Joe is still able to wish Charlie well and tell him that many of their old friends are pulling for him to get better and be released.
King has decided to let Rage fall out of print in the United States, and it is now available only as part of The Bachman Books. The other novels that appeared in that compilation (The Long Walk, Roadwork, and The Running Man) are now published as separate books in the USA. Rage was for a time still available in the United Kingdom and other countries in The Bachman Books, but now appears to be unavailable. The novel can still be found in many libraries.
In a footnote to the preface of Blaze King wrote of Rage: "Now out of print, and a good thing." In a keynote address King delivered to the Vermont Library Conference, he explored the complex sociological and cultural issues surrounding this novel and its apparent link to school shootings, which he placed within the broader context of America's fixation on violence.
"The Carneal incident was enough for me. I asked my publisher to take the damned thing out of print. They concurred." King went on to describe his view on this subject, which acknowledged the culpability that cultural or artistic products such as Rage play in influencing individuals, particularly troubled youths, while also declaring that artists and writers can not be denied the aesthetic opportunity to draw upon their own culture — which is suffused with violence, according to King — in their work.
He went on to describe his inspiration for stories such as Rage, which drew heavily upon his own frustrations and pains as a high school student. In an article on the ominous writings of Virginia Tech shooter Seung-Hui Cho for Entertainment Weekly, King said: "Certainly in this sensitized day and age, my own college writing – including a short story called "Cain Rose Up" and the novel Rage – would have raised red flags, and I'm certain someone would have tabbed me as mentally ill because of them...."
The audiobook was recorded in 1985 by Library of Congress Recording and read by Bob Askey.
|The Bachman Books|
|Rage • The Long Walk • Roadwork • The Running Man • Thinner • The Regulators • Blaze|