Beverly Marsh, Henry Bowers, and Dorsey and Edward Corcoran all have one thing in common: abusive households. Four-year-old Dorsey ends up bludgeoned to death by his stepfather, Richard Macklin, while Henry murders his father, Butch, and ends up in a mental health facility for the criminally-insane. Beverly’s history of abuse compels her to seek her abusive father’s approval through her marriage to Tom Rogan, who also abuses her. The prevalence of abuse in the novel, particularly within the narrative of the characters’ childhoods during the 1950s, clashes with the wholesome, idyllic image of the decade—a period in which families often remained superficially intact but were sometimes very dysfunctional. King’s theme of domestic abuse takes the novel’s terror further, for it reveals that some of Derry’s children have no place to escape It—no comfort from the threat of physical and emotional harm. King uses domestic abuse as an example of the very real violence that terrorizes people’s lives, particularly those of children, even with no influence at all from It's supernatural evil.
King introduces the theme of domestic abuse with the story of the Corcoran boys, revealing the prevalence of child abuse in 1950s America and also reminding readers that the threat of mortal violence is not merely a figment of children’s imaginations, but a daily reality for some. Both Dorsey and Eddie are abused by their stepfather Richard. The first person to notice Dorsey’s abuse is his nursery school teacher, who sees “bad sprains” on his hands when Richard bends the boy’s fingers back for being “bad.” When the boy dies, the teacher insists on believing that it is an accident, refusing to think that someone could bludgeon a small child to death. The irony that King illustrates is how children can internalize the sense of being “bad” when, in fact, they are the victims of callous and dangerous adults, including Dorsey’s mother, Monica Macklin, who hides her knowledge of how her son dies. Furthermore, Dorsey’s schoolteacher refuses to see the evil that is directly present, just as the Losers’ Club notices that adults often do not see or hear It. In this regard, children are not only vulnerable to harm but are made more vulnerable due to the inability—or unwillingness—of adults to believe their stories.
As with Dorsey, Edward Corcoran’s bruises are also noticed by his fifth-grade teacher, Henrietta Dumont. Unlike Dorsey’s teacher, however, Ms. Dumont knows that this is another instance of a parent “confusing beatings with discipline.” Yet she avoids saying anything because she has been discouraged in the past from doing so. The school worries that such reports could affect it during “tax appropriation time,” and the principal tells her to forget about what she sees, suggesting that Dumont could be reprimanded if she does not. The enforced silence around Eddie’s abuse mirrors Derry’s silence about its own criminal past—such as the attack on the Black Spot and Claude Heroux’s axe murder. It is as though the town fears that exposing the evils of domestic abuse will unearth all of the social ills that have, as Will Hanlon notes, been nourished in Derry’s soil. In this regard, silence is the instrument that Derry’s inhabitants use to maintain their peaceful self-image, not realizing that It feeds off of the town’s willful ignorance and denial.
Beverly Marsh also realizes that adults, like her father Al Marsh, do not see It. When Beverly screams after hearing voices from the sink drain, her father “[pops] her one.” This memory of being punished for a problem that she did not cause later makes her think of her husband Tom, whom she fights off and leaves behind at their home in Chicago. For years, Beverly hides Tom’s abuse, just as she hid what she experienced at the hands of her father—another example of “confusing beatings with discipline.” What makes Beverly’s abuse different from that of the Corcoran boys or Henry Bowers is that it teaches her to blame herself for Al’s behavior and, later, for that of Tom. Unlike Henry’s father, Butch, who is mentally ill, or the Corcoran boys’ generally hostile household, Al insists that Beverly needs “correction” in the form of beatings and that she needs it more than a son would. Thus, Beverly’s experience of abuse is more directly tied to her gender and sets off a lifetime of self-blame in response.
Beverly first encounters It when she hears the voice of Veronica Grogan, a murder victim whom she knew, gurgle out of her bathroom sink, as It sends a “gout of blood” out of the drain that her father does not see. Her seemingly baseless fear inspires disgust in Al, and he does not become sympathetic until Beverly lies and says that she screamed because she saw a spider. This makes sense to Al, for “[a]ll girls are scared of spiders.” This explanation even pleases him, as it reinforces his prejudices about women while also assuring him that they need him, and generally all men, to protect them as well as “correct” them. Therefore, Beverly can only get her father’s love and attention, it seems, when she plays along with his understanding of gender roles.
Al Marsh, however, perverts fatherly protection, just as Richard Macklin perverts discipline, by expressing an obsessive concern over Beverly’s body, such as when he asks if anyone has been peeking at her after she emerges from the bathroom in a fright. Al’s perversion of his paternal responsibility for Beverly confuses her about how love ought to feel. She loves her father and appreciates moments in which he is tender, like when he puts her to bed at night and kisses her forehead. However, when he stands over her bed and masturbates while looking at her, she sees him as a menacing “shape” instead of the man who is her father. Beverly senses his desire to have control over her body, which he is on the verge of violating, and she escapes into her imagination to protect herself.
In the novel, domestic abuse can be even more frightening than nightmares because it is perpetrated by those who claim to love those whom they abuse. Beverly’s fear of her father is more complex than her fear of It, because she knows It is wholly evil and repulsive, while she seeks Al Marsh’s love and approval. She accepts his wish to hurt her in exchange for her hope of also receiving his love. The silence around abuse then reinforces the sense that children are often alone in withstanding this everyday horror, just as they feel alone and unheard when confronting It.
Domestic Abuse ThemeTracker
Domestic Abuse Quotes in It
Her father tucked her in as he always did, and kissed her forehead. Then he only stood there for a moment in what she would always think of as “his” way of standing, perhaps of being: bent slightly forward, hands plunged deep—to above the wrist—in his pockets, the bright blue eyes in his mournful basset-hound's face looking down at her from above. In later years, long after she stopped thinking about Derry at all, she would see a man sitting on the bus or maybe standing on a corner with his dinnerbucket in his hand, shapes, oh shapes of men, sometimes seen as day closed down, sometimes seen across Watertower Square in the noonlight of a clear windy autumn day, shapes of men, rules of men, desires of men: or Tom, so like her father when he took off his shirt and stood slightly slumped in front of the bathroom mirror to shave. Shapes of men.
He looked at her, eyes narrowed, mouth smiling casually, completely alive, ready to see what would come next, how she would react. His cock was stiffening in his pants, but he barely noticed. That was for later. For now, school was in session. He replayed what had just happened. Her face. What had that third expression been, there for a bare instant and then gone? First the surprise. Then the pain. Then the (nostalgia) look of a memory . . . of some memory. It had only been for a moment. He didn't think she even knew it had been there, on her face or in her mind. Now: now. It would all be in the first thing she didn't say. He knew that as well as his own name […] He had regressed her. He was in this car with a child. Voluptuous and sexy as hell, but a child.
“Oh!” He smiled a little at her now, as if pleased by this explanation. “Was that it? Damn! If you'd told me, Beverly, I never would have hit you. All girls are scared of spiders. Sam Hill! Why didn’t you speak up?” He bent over the drain and she had to bite her lip to keep from crying out a warning . . . and some other voice spoke deep inside her, some terrible voice which could not have been a part of her; surely it was the voice of the devil himself: Let it get him, if it wants him. Let it pull him down. Good-fucking-riddance. She turned away from that voice in horror. To allow such a thought to stay for even a moment in her head would surely damn her to hell…