It's Beverly Marsh: Badass or Badly Written?

Last year, around September, I picked up a big, fat book to read: Stephen King’s It. It was not only the first horror novel that I read but also the first Stephen King book I read and it was absolutely glorious. The book revolves around a group of misfit friends in a small town, Derry, in Maine, who realise that an evil shape-shifting clown, the infamous Pennywise, is killing the children of the town, and vow to stop him. The book has two parts—one following the self-titled “Losers’ Club” as children, and the other as adults in their late 30s. The Losers’ Club consists of the unofficial leader, Bill Denbrough; Richie Tozier, blessed with the ability to make inopportune jokes; hypochondriac Eddie Kaspbrak; Stanley Uris who is nervous at the prospect of fighting a child-killing clown; Ben Hanscom, who is obese and, therefore, an easy target for bullies; Mike Hanlon, an African-American boy trying to survive in a largely White town in the 1950s; and Beverly Marsh, the lone female Loser. I fell in love with these characters, but while reading, something about the characterisation of Beverly, the only female in a group, and in fact, book, of largely male characters interested me. It is also important to note that Beverly Marsh is a girl, and later woman, written by a man. This makes her an interesting case in examining how well and realistically she was written about, especially in contrast to the version of her in the new It film adaptation.

In the book, almost all the characters face some kind of childhood trauma and Beverly is no different. She is often beaten by her alcoholic father, who claims to be looking out for her, especially when he often utters, “I worry about you Bevvie, I worry about you a lot.” Therefore, being with the other Losers becomes both an escape and a danger for her as her father would beat her even more if he found out she was roaming around town with a group of boys. Beverly doesn’t particularly seem to have great luck as an adult either—her husband, Tom, similarly abuses her till she eventually stands up for herself. I enjoyed reading adult Beverly’s furious escape from her husband, however, at the same time the book had me questioning, why choose domestic violence as a trauma for a woman? It is important to note that domestic violence on women is a recurring trope that occurs in Stephen King’s work, to the point where it plays a central role in a later novel, Rose Madder. While it is indeed true that domestic violence is traumatic, it almost seemed like an easy trauma to pick that was perhaps not as fleshed out as the traumas of other characters. Bill Denbrough’s trauma, the result of his brother’s death which kickstarted the events of the novel, was quite well dealt with as it showed the cold distance the absence of his brother created between his parents and him, and, therefore, how emotionally dependent he was on his friends. It could be argued that Mike Hanlon’s trauma as an African-American in a period of extreme racism was also a typified trauma, however, his trauma was given a backstory through the history of his grandfather and family that brought out how ugly Derry was. This backstory then linked nicely into present day with Mike’s family living next door to racist bully, Henry Bowers, which resulted in several racially charged feuds. Moreover, as an adult, Mike’s trauma doesn’t plague him as much, whereas, with Beverly, the book almost seems to indicate that she is always attracted to damaged men and is, therefore, stuck constantly with an abusive man in her life. It is also crucial to note that none of the other Losers’ childhood traumas follow them into adulthood to the same degree that Beverly’s does. For example, Bill’s brother’s death does not affect his life and career as much, while Beverly’s abuse continues, simply at the hands of a new man. Moreover, when King describes Tom first noticing Beverly, Tom explicitly mentions how vulnerable she looks. It is important to note that King is not necessarily a bad writer, but his choice of trauma for a woman is debatable.

Beverly’s characterisation in the novel is also somewhat problematic. There is no doubt that she is portrayed as a strong girl and later, equally strong woman, however, this strength is rarely exploited. In crucial fights with Pennywise, the other Losers have important roles, whereas Beverly seems to not do much. Without spoiling the novel, I would say that she is definitely assigned important roles, such as being given crucial weapons to fight Pennywise, however, when the actual fights arise, King barely focuses on her. She is also described as being beautiful on many occasions, which is in itself not a problem, however, her beauty constantly leads to her being seen as an object of romantic desire and even one of sexual desire. In an infamous scene I do not wish to spoil, Beverly’s being a girl and an object of sexual desire, affects the plot profoundly. The scene also changes the nature of her relation with her friends. As far as romantic desire goes, Beverly is also made the head of a love triangle between her, Ben and Bill. Even the bullies seem to find her desirable. This seems highly controversial to me as it suggests that Beverly cannot simply be treated as a normal person. Her beauty and her gender seems to get in the way of how she is portrayed and this clouds her personality a bit. Despite trying to be ‘one of the boys,’ as a girl, she is never completely dissociated from her gender. It is possible that adolescent boys are aware of the difference between them and an adolescent girl, but the amount of times her beauty is noticed by almost any male character is somewhat annoying.

Beverly Marsh as played by Sophia Lillis in It (2017). Credit:


Beverly definitely has her moments of bad-assery, but they are few and far between. The recent film adaptation of the movie perhaps seems to recognise the problems associated with Beverly’s portrayal as in the movie, Beverly fears very little and has visible moments of strength, especially in a scene in which she cuts her hair off after her father touches it. This scene is powerful as it asserts a small moment of rebellion against her oppressor. However, even in the movie, near the end, Beverly is made a damsel in distress to be rescued from the clutches of Pennywise, in a scene which thankfully King didn’t have in the novel.

As mentioned before, the purpose of this article is not to criticise Stephen King, but simply his portrayal of a girl, and then, a woman. To his credit, it is evident that King intends for Beverly to be perceived as a strong woman, however, the things I have mentioned plague her portrayal with tropes that are most often thrown on women. I feel that this portrayal can then throw open other questions about how women are portrayed in media and then whether it is fair at all for men to write them. Personally, I do not think that it is impossible for men to write women, however, they should be made aware not to play into tropes when writing women. All of this being said, I do still recommend both the film and book versions of It, but I wish that Beverly Marsh had been a more inspiring female character.

Edited by: Vasudha Malani

Photographic content curated by:  Sanjna Mishra and Gauri Jhangiani