Morality by Stephen King

What are you willing to do for money?

I am willing to work (two jobs) seven days a week and forgo many things that make me happy. I’m even willing to do a few things that make me unhappy – like speaking in public to large groups. What do I forgo? The last movie I saw in theaters? The only one I’ve seen this year, Stoker.  Aside from traveling, the last time I ate in a restaurant? I don’t even know (I’m cheating because I’m not counting the little place beside my work that serves salads for less than $5.00). Now I realize these things are not particularly a hardship, but they do make me happy. However, so does paying off my student loans.

What are you not willing to do for money?

This is potentially a long list, so I won’t bore you by listing everything. However, high on that list is abuse. I would not be the recipient or the inflictor of abuse on another person. Even if someone offered me $200,000 to do it…


Chad and Nora Callahan are a young(ish) couple suffering from financial trouble. Chad is a teacher, but can’t find a permanent placement within a school system. He is working as a substitute teacher and in his spare time is trying to write a book. Nora is a nurse, but has been laid off from the hospital she was working at. She is now the caretaker of a retired reverend, George Winston. Both are overstressed and underpaid.

Reverend Winston knows he is at the end of his life and he confides in Nora that he has lived his life largely without sin. He wants to experience one great sin before his death and since he cannot commit this sin himself, he wishes to live vicariously through Nora. In exchange, he offers to pay her over $200,000. If she accepts, her financial troubles will be over, but can she live with the guilt? If she declines, she runs the risk of being poor for the rest of her life. What’s the great sin? To Inflict bodily harm on a small child and capture the attack on film.

Would you do it? Or would you take the moral high ground, but financial low ground?

Nora agrees to it, but is wracked with guilt. The strain causes the dissolution of the young couple’s marriage and hastens the end of the Reverend’s life. Is $200,000 worth the cost?

Stephen King’s short story appears in the back of his novella Blockade Billy and was originally published in Esquire. When I discovered my original copy of Blockade Billy did not contain Morality, I began hunting used book sales for a copy that did. I finally found one recently for $.25 – I couldn’t pass that up. The story is short, straightforward, and lacks both the horror and gore of a typical Stephen King work. I enjoyed it and would generally recommend it, but it’s certainly not his best. The best part about it is the personal questions it raises. What would you do for money? Would you compromise your moral standards to gain financial stability? Money is a powerful motivator, particularly for those who lack it. I don’t know that people realize how bleak life can seem when you’re truly poor. Chad and Nora know the feeling intimately and succumb to the financial temptation offered to transgress their moral standards – they live to regret it and it changes their lives in ways they cannot have imagined. 3/5.

Anyone else dream about the day your student loans are paid off? It’s not just me, right? If you’re interested in the questions money and morals raise, I would also recommend In Love by Alfred Hayes – an exceptional novel about the dissolution of love following a man’s offer to a woman to spend the night with her.


There’s no food mentioned in this short story, so I am opting to recommend the traditional cheap food – Ramen. Try this signature recipe created by Underbelly Ramen.


16 thoughts on “Morality by Stephen King

  1. No, I could never harm someone else for money. I wouldn’t be able to live with myself. There are lots of things I wouldn’t do for money, actually. That list would most likely change if I were flat broke, but I still wouldn’t harm someone for money even then.


    1. My list of things I wouldn’t do is long – from the serious (harming someone) to the ridiculous (small enclosed space with spiders). Even if I was broke (and I’ve had periods of time where I have been), I wouldn’t be able to do either of those things.

      The characters do have a tough time dealing with it in unexpected ways.


    1. Me too. I just couldn’t do that to a child. The reverend who demanded it couldn’t live with himself either.

      If you have twenty minutes and have a copy, read the story – totally worth it (despite that I just gave it all away)!


    1. Exactly. Though I’ve always wondered about scenarios like An Indecent Proposal…not that that will be happening to me any time soon 😉


  2. I want to read this one!LOL I do lots of things to make a living that I don’t enjoy..but likewise I have a dream of paying off my student loans someday when I am sitting in my rocking chair at the age of 95 ;>


    1. Student loans are the bane of my existence. I could fly to Europe once a month with what I pay (well, maybe not in the summer) – not even kidding. Graduate school may not have been my wisest (financial) decision.

      And read the story, super short, non-scary, non-gory King. It’s fantastic.


  3. Oh shoot…now I’m going to have to hunt for this one too.

    I’m guessing it was inspired by the times King struggled financially, as he was trying to sell his first book…interesting twist to that scenario he took here.

    I don’t think I could ever do what Nora agrees to here, but even if this isn’t his best work, I’d still be interested to see how it turns out!! (And as for those student loans…after years of working to pay them off, let me tell you that last payment makes it all feel totally WORTH IT.)


    1. It’s good, though not remarkable, I promise. Absolutely worth reading just for the internal questions it creates.

      I have 10 payments left on my students loans. 10. The light at the end of the tunnel is so close I could cry. And I will, with relief, next May.


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