King highlights Bill’s inability to write by contrasting it with Hank’s productivity. Hank has taken Bill’s place in the family and in the basement office, replacing Bill’s personal effects with his own. Hank is still productive and vital, in contrast to Bill, who died while he was experiencing writer’s block.2 The fact that King intends ‘‘Sorry, Right Number’’ to be read as a story is clear from the author’s note that precedes it, explaining the conventions that script writers use to a general audience that he assumes would be unfamiliar with such techniques. The abbreviations that he describes are not so complex that his reader could not translate them with just a little thought, as King points out by saying, ‘‘Probably most of you knew all that stuff to begin with, right?’’ By addressing the reader directly, King uses the author’s note to bridge the gap between script and story.
Being presented in script form creates several distinct effects for ‘‘Sorry, Right Number.’’ For one thing, there is very little visual description, since most decisions about how this story should look would be relegated to the hands of costume designers, set designers, and lighting experts. When King does give descriptions in the stage notes, they are for aspects that are necessary for developing the character’s inner personality. His stage notes also provide clues to the character’s feelings, with notes such as ‘‘Her face is filled with an agonizing mixture of hope and fear. If only she can have one more chance to pass the vital message on, it says.’’ In a conventional short story, it would be the author’s responsibility to describe just how such feelings manifest themselves on a face, but writing in script format allows King to leave that to the discretion of the actor who would be playing Katie.
Anthropomorphism is the literary technique of giving inanimate objects qualities that are normally associated with humans. Near the end of this story, King directs the camera to move in toward the telephone in an extreme close-up, until it seems that the camera view is going right inside the holes in the phone’s earpiece. For the very last camera shot of the story, King’s direction repeats the extreme close-up, describing the phone as looking ‘‘somewhat ominous.’’ The story does not say that the phone is alive or that it holds malicious intentions, or how it could be so, but these camera angles imply that it is capable of human intentions.
A predestination paradox is created when a fictional character has foreknowledge of an event or outcome and tries to avoid it, but to no avail. A paradox is an impossible or contradictory and trying to avoid a fated, or predestined, situation is impossible. It is a technique that goes back to the dramas written by the ancient Greeks, who often used oracles to warn characters about the fates that lay in store for them. A well-known example is the prophesy that Oedipus would kill his father and marry his mother, which, despite actions to prevent it, is exactly what he ends up doing.
In ‘‘Sorry, Right Number,’’ Bill and Katie Weiderman know that someone is in trouble, and they do what they can to stop it. They are hindered by the fact that it is an incomplete prophesy: although Katie is sure that the person in trouble is a family member, they do not know who the caller is or the nature of the problem she faces. They do not even know that the mysterious call is a prophesy of the future until Katie pieces together what has happened in the last scene. Still, the story is driven by the fact that readers know the call will have some serious impact on the characters, even when its relevance is not clear.
Sara Constantakis – Short Stories for Students – Presenting Analysis, Context & Criticism on Commonly Studied Short Stories, vol. 30, Stephen King, Published by Gale Group, 2010