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Stephen King’s The Running Man: A Literary Analysis

Rhylee Suyom has hopped in three different worlds: the academe, the corporate, and the media. He enjoys being with nature and his family.

The Running Man by Stephen King


Stephen King’s The Running Man: A Literary Analysis

The Running Man by Stephen King revolves around the protagonist who joined the game show “Running Man” where the economy is stooping down, at the same time, the violence keeps on going up. United States is presented as dystopian in the novel as Richard Benns runs around the world to save himself from being killed by the hunters.

The Running Man in The Running Man

The Running Man was written by Stephen King which was then first published under the pseudonym of Richard Bachman in 1982 which is a Scientific Fiction Dystopian novel about America which is run by a totalitarian government (Smythe, 2012). It was written in a week or within 72 hours and presents a quasi-plausible possibility for the future.

In the story, this popular game show takes a volunteer who would be chased by bounty hunters, police, and viewers in exchange for money. If the volunteer gets found by the hunters, he would be killed. Richard Benns volunteers to have the money for his starving wife and child. He risks his life to extend his daughter’s life. This novel presents how big businesses and corporations get to maintain order through brainwashing the people through sadistic game shows (, 2015). Given this situation, the volunteer would be given money to spend to hide wherever he must go. The volunteer would have to stay alive for 30 days for him to get the money for his family.

Symbolism in the Novel

One of the literary devices that writers use is symbolism. Symbolism refers to the use of various images or symbols that have a greater meaning in the story which could serve as a metaphor for a bigger concept. “Symbolism is the use of symbols to signify ideas and qualities by giving them symbolic meanings that are different from their literal sense,” (, 2013). This method is a more creative method in sending values, issues, and messages across.

The novel has several symbols that can be connected to the real-world phenomenon. One of these is the game show itself. The entire umbrella of the game show reflects the recurring or even the present issues of the society.

The game serves as the symbol that connects to a real-world phenomenon or idea. In Running Man game, there would be participants who could go anywhere with the hunters. The game show is a symbol for the powerful hand of the Capitalistic society. It represents the capability of the ruling class to brainwash people for their benefit and for their whims to be granted no matter how brutal these games are.

The game show could be dissected by its ensemble and by its parts. Every part of it symbolizes various societal issues that are still relevant until today. Running Man is a symbol for the power of the ruling class from the past and even up to the present. This game show presents that the ruling class can manipulate people to doing what they want given the money that they would give as prize. It is apparently the commodification of human beings or even the objectification of the human beings. This game illustrates how the rich people could toy the men in dire need of money to risking their own lives just to save their family from death because of hunger.

Dissecting the Novel

In the novel, Richard Benns is an unemployed factory worker who joined the contest because he wanted to save his family from dying because of hunger. He willingly joined the contest to win the money to the point of risking his life along the way. This scene is already relevant to the contemporary period. The mere fact that it starts with the idea that Richard is an unemployed factory worker only shows that there is already this big picture of capitalism that is operating on the situation. Factory workers are usually the laborers who get alienated because of the routine that they are in. The mere idea that he was previously a factory worker and still he does not have any savings for his family shows that there is a clear unfair treatment or situation for both proletariat and the plebeian or the lower class. Having him join such contest would only depict that he is willing to do everything just to win the money even if it may worth his own life. There is a tendency that he got a lower self-worth with the alienation that he got from usual labor practice that they had when he was still working. Coming from the Marxist Perspective, alienation is the state where the worker loses both the product of his labor and his sense of his own productive activity where the world he created confronts him as a stranger and an enemy having power over him because he transferred his power to it (Tyson, 2006). Alienation is considered as the state which comes about when the worker is ‘deskilled’ because of the repetitive and fragmented tasks he has no overall grasp (Barry, 2010).

Due to his consistent work, he may have lost his sense of self-worth that he came to a point that he just opted to risk his own life just to provide the needs of his family. It appears that the game show is the only chance for him to solve the problem. If the situation were not that harsh for his class, he would not have to resort to such life-risking situation.

In the real world, the same thing happens to regular workers. There is a sense of alienation to the point of setting aside of workers’ worth as human beings because of the dire need for financial resources. Exact examples of Richard Benns would be the criminals who opted to do bad things just to save their families from hunger; the sex workers, and even the regular workers who do not consider themselves humans anymore just to have the money in order to sustain the needs of their family. This tendency could be attributed to the unjust distribution of the resources of the world. If only the goods or resources were equally distributed and the opportunity for growth was made available for everyone, there would be less people to choose this kind of path.

Getting into the details of the main symbol, the hunters are abusive ones who are in the ruling class who could enjoy their lives while others are suffering. The hunters could be a symbol for the catching capabilities of the abusive in power to just chase down whatever they want to chase since the circumstances favored them to do so given their resources and power. Those who have the resources could seem to do anything that they want since they could always buy their right to do so.

"What will you do if you see him on your street?"
"And what are we going to do when we find him?"
"KILL HIM!" (King 136)

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These lines are showing how violent and inhumane hunters have become with the conditioning set by the powerful ones. To consider, the hunters should consider that who they are hunting is no animal, but a human like them. But, with how people were brainwashed by the society, there appears to be the numbing process which made them see this scenario as something to be tolerable and normal. It appears like the buying of a human being’s life becomes valid through the symbolism presented by the game show.

The Novel in General is a Huge Symbol

The Running Man as a novel in its entirety also serves as a symbol for the unfair distribution of the resources in the world. The rich ones appear to be capable to buy the life of an average person for their entertainment while the volunteer is risking his life for him to attend to the needs of his family. If there is an equal distribution of resources in the world, Richard would not have to resort to doing so. Aside from this, the world would not permit such a brutal game show to persist or even to exist. Since there is an apparent unfair distribution of goods in the society, the lower class which makes up most of the population of the world would just have to give in or be convinced on the whims of the rich people since they have the control over the people.

The entire game show is the portrayal of how rampant capitalism and commodification are persistent in the society to the point that human beings fail to realize that what they are toying are human beings as well. It is a reminder how money could manipulate people’s lives and the entire community. However, the motives of those in power are failed to be recognized since they are fairly blinded with the power and the offer of the powerful ones.

Given that, it could be asserted that in King’s The Running Man, the game show illustrated how the inhumane challenge for the person could be a symbol for the power of the ruling class or the capitalists in manipulating and playing the lives of the people in the society. It also shows how inhumane they have become with just the influence of money and with the influence of those who are taking advantage of their vulnerability.


The novel is a clear quasi-plausible story that started in the past and is still apparent with the contemporary novel series like Hunger Games and other novels with similar motifs or themes related to making use of human life as a form entertainment. It is a quasi-plausible story since there is a big possibility for it to transpire soon. The future of the society, if ever capitalism persists or if ever the rule of the powerful or the rich continues, will depend on them and will depend on their preferences or even their whims.

The Running Man is a reminder to us humans to hold on to our virtues and values no matter what happens in the future. It is a clear warning that we could get influenced by the power of money and by the manipulation of the rich. We should always keep in mind that killing another person just for entertainment purposes should never be acceptable no matter on what era it would happen.


"Symbolism - Examples and Definition of Symbolism." Literary Devices. 2 July 2013. Web. 10 Dec. 2015. <>.

"The Running Man Book Review Summary." Detailed Review Summary of The Running Man by Stephen King. Web. 10 Dec. 2015. <>.

Barry, Peter. (2010). Beginning Theory: An Introduction to Literary and Cultural Theory. 2nd ed. New York: Manchester University Press. Pp. 150 – 159. Print.

Smythe, James. (2012). "Rereading Stephen King: Week 12 – The Running Man." The Guardian. Web. 10 Dec. 2015. <>.

Tyson, Lois. (2006). Critical Theory Today: A User-Friendly Guide, 2nd ed. New York: Routledge. Pp. 21 – 47. Print.

Stephen King’s 'The Running Man'


Professor S (author) from Angeles City, Pampanga, PHILIPPINES on May 27, 2019:

I could not agree more. Though at some point the film versions seem to to have watered down the mystique that was Stephen King.

Thanks for your comment, John.

John Hansen from Gondwana Land on May 27, 2019:

Reginaldo, I have read this book 'The Running Man' and feel your analysis is spot on. I really enjoyed this book, and in fact, tend to like any books written under the Richard Bachman pseudonym better than those under Stephen King. Good job.

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