Flashback Friday: 11/22/63

Haley Saffren ’20 / Emertainment Monthly Staff Writer

11/22/63.  A day that will forever go down in history as the day that President John F. Kennedy was gunned down in front of thousands of people at a parade in Dallas, Texas.  His death was devastating and completely unexpected.  To this day, he is revered for being a good president whose service was cut short on that fateful day in 1963. Wouldn’t it be interesting to find out what would have happened if JFK had never been shot?  If someone caught Lee Harvey Oswald before he pulled the trigger?  The novel 11/22/63, written by Stephen King, highlights what might have happened if JFK’s tragic death had been avoided.

Stephen King is well-known for his famous horror novels, however, 11/22/63 is far from his typical brand of horror. The novel lays out, in excellent detail, the facts surrounding JFK’s assassination. The plot revolves around Jake Epping, a high school English teacher who discovers a portal that allows him to travel back in time to 1963 before Kennedy’s assassination.  Jake travels back to Dallas to the exact spot where JFK was killed and stalks Lee Harvey Oswald in order to discover if he truly acted alone.  Jake is able to save Kennedy from his fate, but disastrous consequences occur as a result.

The character of Jake Epping is intriguing because he is not someone who chose to be a hero; it was thrust on him by his best friend, Al. At first, Jake is a rather emotionless guy even when he goes through devastating experiences.  As the novel progresses, he evolves into a man who openly cares and expresses emotions, concerns, and a purpose.  He isn’t afraid to pursue the historical change for good that Al begged him to consider.  Al himself is a heroic and tragic character.  He is desperate to find a way to change the tragic past even if it is after his death, and so he asks his best friend to act for what Al believes is the greater good.  Al sets a dual change in motion:  by persuading Jake, he changes the course of history and spurs the emotional growth of Jake.

This novel offers an interesting perspective on time and historical events.  JFK’s death left citizens confused, scared, and without their president.  JFK’s assassination shaped our country moving forward in negative and/or positive directions. Altering history could bring benefits but also chaos because each event triggers a chain reaction of new events that may spiral out of control.  So while the intriguing idea of time travel can be argued as good or bad, it remains a mystery that we’ll never unravel. While 11/22/63 was a very sad day for America, Stephen King’s story proposes that we better not tamper with history.

Another interesting aspect of 11/22/63 and JFK’s death is the potential conspiracy behind his assassination.  One of the biggest debates in our history is whether his death was caused by a singular angry, twisted man or a government plot against the president. In the novel, Jake reiterates that Lee Harvey Oswald’s life turned him into a man filled with hate, and he worked alone to kill JFK. Putting his protagonist up close and personal with Oswald reinforces the Oswald-as-assassin theory.  King avoids any reference to a government conspiracy or that JFK would have been assassinated if Oswald’s attempts failed. King’s fictional take is interesting because Jake’s exposure to Oswald causes him to alter history and raises new questions about the validity of what happened.  Does King answer questions about this day or raise new ones?  The book raises new questions about an event that has varied evidence but not enough to solidify proof of what happened.  

Stephen King’s novel about the JFK assassination is not like the rest of his novels.  The supernatural element is not a monster or a ghost, it is time travel.  The moment Jake discovers the portal, he is presented with an opportunity to change history, and when he does, the world is thrown into chaos.  King ties in fictional elements of time travel with actual historical events to reinforce the idea that history should stay the way it was, tragic or not, and to acknowledging that some questions are better left unanswered.

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