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Queer Subtext in Stephen King’s It – Part 2: Richie and Eddie’s Subtle Romance

Richie Tozier and Eddie Kaspbrak’s relationship has been speculated about since “It” by Stephen King was published in 1986 and was finally legitimized by “It: Chapter 2” in fall of 2019. Now that I have analyzed each character’s background and behavior, we can explore the queer subtext present in Richie and Eddie’s scenes in the novel.

Richie and Eddie scenes that are both very cute and very gay

Eddie and Richie’s first on-page interaction happens when Richie and Stan show up at the Barrens, and Richie immediately begins teasing Eddie like a boy pulling on the pigtails of a girl he likes.

Richie’s teasing follows a specific criteria: he calls Eddie “Eds,” pinches his cheek, and often calls him “cute,” as shown in later scenes. This creates a special ritual between the two of them that they both partake in: Richie uses the same language and behavior to joke around with Eddie, and Eddie has the same exasperated response.

Richie is known as a jokester and his teasing exasperates Eddie, but he doesn’t feel antagonized by it. Richie’s line “‘You love it, Eds’” shows that Richie is aware of this and pays close attention to Eddie’s emotions. Richie only teases Eddie because he knows that Eddie likes it deep down, an assumption that is later confirmed by adult Eddie.

Richie is an oddball, who Eddie admits he doesn’t understand.

Eddie doesn’t have the same insight into Richie’s emotions as Richie does for his because he can’t properly interpret them. This distance between him and Eddie is intentional, due to Richie’s tendency to use humor as a tactic to distract others from his true feelings.

Richie isn’t all jokes all the time, however, as shown in this flashback scene where he confesses his life’s ambition to Eddie.

It is well known by the other characters that Richie likes Voices and ventriloquism, but as far as we know, Eddie is the only person he has voiced this dream to. It is a personal thing for Richie to share, which suggests that Eddie is a person he feels comfortable being serious with from time to time. Eddie admires Richie for dreaming big but has some reasonable doubts, particularly that Richie is bad at ventriloquism because everyone can see his lips moving. Eddie doesn’t mention telling Richie this, so we can assume Eddie kept this to himself to spare his crush’s feelings.

This next interaction is a continuation of Richie and Eddie’s first scene together.

This scene includes all the teasing that Richie reserves only for Eddie. Richie often teases the other characters and even jokingly flirts with Beverly and Bill, but Eddie is the only one he repeatedly calls “cute.” It is an oddly specific thing to tease Eddie about.

It’s also important to note that, while Richie is giving Eddie a hard time, he only does the type of teasing that he believes Eddie is comfortable with. When Eddie yells at him for getting mud on him, Richie gets up right away.

Richie is oddly considerate of Eddie for someone who continually teases him, which may explain why Eddie inexplicably likes to hang out with him.

In a more serious scene later on, Eddie senses that Bill is about to say something he doesn’t want to hear and wishes for help from Richie.

Eddie wants protection from his own fear and wishes for Richie to come to his rescue. Richie is infamous for saying stupid things and ruining the moment, so this wish makes sense on a surface level, but it’s also interesting how Eddie turns to Richie for comfort.

Eddie brings up a memory where he asks Richie about STDs and this flashback-within-a-flashback frames sex and disease in an interesting way for both characters.

In this scene, Eddie turns to Richie for information about syphilis, which is odd because Eddie is typically more knowledgeable about disease due to his adamant fear of it. However, Richie knows a little more about sex and its functions than Eddie and the other Losers do, as we touched on before.

It’s interesting that Richie initially says a “guy can get it from a woman” and Bill interjects, adding that gay men can get it from each other. It could simply be that the heteronormative society in the 1950s causes Richie to single out men and women as sexual partners, but he frames the pairing in a negative light by saying that “mostly women” have syphilis.

Richie is framing heterosexual sex as a bad thing here and must be reminded by Bill that gay men aren’t immune to STDs. It appears that Richie is subconsciously trying to convince Eddie that sex with a woman is what will make him vulnerable to disease, the opposite of the message that causes Eddie to live in fear of his own homosexual impulses.

Later, in a much lighter scene, Richie is looking for a friend to go to the movies with and we get a very cute phone call between him and Eddie.

Richie calls Bill first because Bill’s the leader of the Losers Club but calls Eddie next. Richie calls Eddie cute completely unprompted and in an oddly specific and sincere way. He doesn’t stop at “they know how cute you are”–he continues by adding himself and making it clear that he thinks Eddie is cute and isn’t just making a blanket statement that his aunts think so.

Richie uses his endearing nickname for Eddie here, but not his Voices. The only thing suggesting that Richie is joking is that his statement is utterly ridiculous–boys don’t call other boys cute, especially not in the 1950s. Richie knows this and hides behind this knowledge as he attempts to express his feelings for Eddie.

It’s also interesting that Richie tells only Eddie that he and Bill have a story to share and says they have something to tell “you,” not “you guys.” He is talking only to Eddie here and not including the other Losers.

There is another instance of Richie comforting Eddie after the Apocalyptic Rockfight and it’s very sweet.

If you pay attention, you’ll notice that Richie often dotes on Eddie throughout the novel. He immediately goes to Eddie’s side when he is winded and offers him medicine, which he knows will make Eddie feel better.

Later, Richie starts to tease Eddie about peeing in the Barrens and won’t let up when Eddie tries to change the subject.

Eddie doesn’t tolerate Richie’s foolishness and finally challenges Richie about his dreaded nickname. The two bicker like an old married couple for a while and Richie calls Eddie “my love,” an affectionate term. Coincidentally, Don calls his boyfriend Adrian Mellon “my love” at the beginning of the novel.

There is an instance of Eddie referencing what Richie might say if he were there or just hearing Richie’s voice in his head, which happens often.

This contrasts with his mother’s voice, who torments Eddie even after her death. Richie’s voice reminds Eddie of how Richie would react to a certain situation, usually in the form of his affectionate teasing. Richie seems to be on Eddie’s mind a lot.

Speaking of Eddie’s mother, she disapproves of his friends, but Eddie isn’t willing to admit that to Mr. Keene. He is particularly hurt by her disapproval of a certain friend.

Eddie describes his mother’s remarks about Richie as “cutting” …even though they’re true. Richie does swear a lot and smoke, so why is Eddie so hurt by his mother’s criticisms? All he mentions about Bill is that his mother dislikes him, which is odd, because you’d think he would be more upset over bad remarks about Bill.

In a rare moment of seriousness, Richie asks for a pump of Eddie’s aspirator in a scary situation.

He knows how important it is to Eddie and wants to use it to feel better, too.

Richie is directly behind Eddie in the single-file line into Neibolt…almost like he wants to keep an eye on Eddie and protect him if anything happens.

Richie is very aware of Eddie’s needs and makes sure he gets help from the others.

Richie teases Eddie as he runs up and the Voice he chooses is interesting: a southern gentleman. Richie even offers Stan to carry Eddie’s game board for him. This is all in good fun, until…

Eddie wants a lick of Richie’s “Rocket” and Richie is reluctant to comply. He drops the Voice and all the teasing. On the surface, Richie is bummed because Eddie wants a lick of his ice cream just as he’s getting to the good part–but he doesn’t refuse Eddie. It’s also important to note that Eddie is afraid of germs and sickness (and Richie points this out to him to deter him) but has no qualms about Richie’s germs and doesn’t see danger there.

Eddie is right to trust Richie implicitly because Richie holds onto Eddie and ensures his safety even in the most dangerous situations.

After Eddie’s defining moment of bravery, Richie offers to buy Eddie a new pair of shoes to replace the one It ate and doesn’t say anything to Eddie about “owesies.”

Richie teases Eddie again, but in a complimentary way because he is delighted by Eddie’s hilarious dialogue and tells him so. He says “I know” when Eddie tells him he hates his nickname and then hugs him in a tender moment.

Richie and Eddie engage in their usual teasing, but they seem to be genuinely delighted with each other and having a good time. He is clearly saying “Eds” in a tender way and wants Eddie to know he appreciates him. Richie knows Eddie has mixed feelings about the nickname, but it’s how he establishes closeness between them.

During the phone call sequence, we meet adult Richie first and gets this memory.

Richie and Eddie are the only two characters Henry Bowers calls a “fag” in dialogue. Henry calls Ben a “babyfag” in his thoughts and asks Stan Uris if his “fag friends” have given him a BJ. It’s interesting that King chooses to have Henry single out Richie and Eddie as “fags” and vocalize this.

In a continuation of this scene, Richie thinks about all the Losers and their dorky qualities.

It’s okay for him to call himself and his friends “losers” because that’s what they were, but he excludes Eddie because Richie doesn’t think of Eddie as a loser. Not Eddie.

We meet adult Eddie soon after and he has a brief thought about Richie that triggers panic.

It seems to me that the end of the sentence is “buy him a new pair of Keds,” a callback to a line Richie said to Eddie as children after his act of bravery. Eddie often thinks about memories with Richie or hears Richie’s voice in his head. Richie is still on his mind a lot. Eddie begins to panic when he thinks about Richie specifically because Richie represents the homosexual feelings he has repressed for so long.

Speaking of Richie, Eddie thinks of Richie again, very fondly.

He finally addresses his true feelings about Richie’s nickname for him. He hated being called “Eds” but liked it because he felt like Richie was giving him a “secret identity.” The nickname “Eds” literally represents a secret between the two of them that Eddie has mixed feelings about.

Eddie says that Richie understands that being “different people” is important because they can be more themselves that way. This shows Eddie has a better understanding of Richie than he previously thought and possibly better than the other Losers.

Once the Losers have all arrived in Derry, Richie falls back on his old habits of teasing Eddie but is now mature enough to understand this isn’t the best way to express himself.

Richie’s relentless teasing in childhood has affected Eddie, too, who acts severely to Richie in a later scene.

Eddie assumes that Richie is about to tease him and pinch his cheek–a fair assumption on Eddie’s part. It appears, though, that Richie is attempting to comfort him: he “soothed” Eddie and leaning in could mean any number of things.

Richie realized earlier that his old defense mechanisms were childish and outdated. Eddie can see Richie is trying to comfort him, but associates Richie initiating closeness between them with teasing and reacts to what he assumes Richie will do.

When the Losers are agreeing to fight It again, Bill doubts Eddie’s bravery and Richie congratulates Eddie for it.

Eddie is maybe the most self-aware Loser when it comes to recognizing how It and his own upbringing shaped his adult choices.

Eddie hears Richie’s voice again, this time to express that he has been unhappy for years. He imagines Richie recognizing that his happiness is a façade, both as a reality check and an idealistic wish. His life without Richie has not had many “chucks” – meaning, joy.

It terrorizes Richie and singles out Bev and Eddie as the two Losers for Richie to “bring along” to the sewers.

It can see a person’s fear, so it must be able to see a person’s love and desire, too. It knows that Richie has been sexually or romantically attracted to Beverly and Eddie in the past and uses the people he cares about most to taunt him.

Eddie frantically calls Bill after his fight with Henry and considers Bill won’t pick up because he’s dead. After Bill, though, he worries about Richie’s safety, and then the rest of the Losers.

The Losers go to confront Pennywise in the sewer again and Bill’s worry for Audra causes him to run ahead of the group.

Bill won’t respond to Richie, who calls out for him repeatedly. Richie is worried and calls out to Eddie for reassurance. Sure enough, Eddie responds, and Richie suddenly “senses his presence.” Eddie is there for Richie and able to comfort him in his time of need, and this tenderness makes Richie feel close to Eddie even though he is out of Richie’s eyesight.

Finally, Richie slaps Eddie’s butt, a rather playful and sexual way to tell him to keep moving.

Eddie admits a weakness due to his injury, but Richie doesn’t let him believe he’s weak–he tells him to keep going.

Eddie and Richie parallel Beverly and Ben’s love story

Richie and Eddie’s love story parallels Ben and Beverly, their heterosexual counterparts, who get a happy ending.

Eddie has a dream or vision while in the hospital and sees It watching his mother and friends in the waiting room and It takes form of Eddie’s worst fear of all.

It transforms into Eddie’s mother, confirming that while Eddie loves her, he fears her as well. This is a parallel to the love/hate relationship Beverly has with her abusive father.

Beverly and Eddie continue to mirror each other in adulthood as they each marry someone strikingly similar to their abusive parents.

Eddie, self-aware as ever, thinks about what a burden it must be for Bill to be so loved.

Eddie’s thoughts about power are a direct parallel to Ben’s earlier thoughts about how loving someone gives them power over you.

This is no coincidence, especially since Eddie uses the word “love” to describe Bill three times in one sentence–“lovely” twice and “well-loved” once.

Eddie proves this love to Bill as an adult by showing admirable strength.

Richie perceives Bill’s smile as “weary” and “terrible.” Eddie is expressing love for Bill here and, as Ben said many pages ago, loving someone gives them a lot of power over you. Beverly and Eddie both love Bill and so he has power over them. Beverly and Ben, and Richie and Eddie love each other and so there is an equal power dynamic there. They each wield power and succumb to it.

The Losers all love each other and there is power in that. Love comes with a lot of power, but pressure and responsibility, too, and that is weary and terrible.

Bill has an internal monologue about love and desire when he sees that Ben is hurt by his coupling with Beverly.

Bill thinks that the loving, the feeling is what matters, rather than the actual consummation of that love. Bill hopes this thought will bring comfort to Ben, who expresses deep love for Beverly here:

Ben and Beverly often serve as a parallel to Richie and Eddie and Ben’s claim still applies–Bill will never love Eddie the way Richie does because of his sexual preference. Eddie loves Richie, but he also very much loves Bill and this love triangle is yet another parallel to Ben and Beverly. For Richie and Eddie, it’s still true that the loving is what matters because love is the most powerful force of all.

Pay attention to the order in which the Losers chase down Bill during their childhood fight in the sewer.

Bev and Eddie follow immediately because they love Bill, and Ben and Richie follow because they love Bev and Eddie respectively. Of course, they still want to defeat It, but they draw their strength from trying to protect the person they love. Love gives Bill power over Bev and Eddie, and Bev and Eddie power over Ben and Richie. However, love also lets them all become powerful and draw courage from it.

As adults, Bill takes off like a rocket after It again and the other Losers must follow behind. It is similar to the way they follow Bill into Its lair as children, except this time, Richie is chasing after Bill and Eddie is chasing after Richie.

So, why the switch? It’s simple: returning to Derry has made Eddie “become a kid again” and by doing so, he has finally recognized his love for Richie. Ben describes Eddie as a “gunslinger,” which is like Jock Mahoney, Eddie’s childhood hero before Bill. He has finally succeeded in becoming brave like Bill and is using that bravery to protect Richie.

Eddie’s sacrifice and Richie’s grief

This is Eddie’s big, brave moment as a child.

Eddie attacks It furiously to protect Bill because he cannot stand to see harm come to the boy he loves. This act of bravery helps Eddie see that It is “just an Eye” and not as powerful as they believed. It is not as powerful as Eddie’s love for Bill.

Eddie encourages the other Losers to fight It but addresses Bill and Richie by name. Partly because Bill is the leader and Richie is the one fearful of the Eye, but also because he loves them both most of all. Eddie’s bravery and love for them inspires courage in Bill and Richie.

Eddie’s sacrifice as an adult is a parallel to his moment of bravery as a child. He sprays “battery acid” on It when It tries to take Bill, who was the object of his affections at the time. This time, though, he is spurred into action when he hears Richie call out for help.

He is warned against going near It by his mother’s overbearing voice in his head. She is raving at him about the dangers and he finally stands up to her. His cry of triumph against his mother is what distracts It from Richie. Eddie saves Richie’s life because he accepts the idea that danger and fear and disease are worth braving to help somebody you love.

Eddie’s death scene tells us a lot about his character and his relationship with Richie.

Eddie sees Richie “weaving and stumbling” towards him after his injury. There is no dialogue tag at the end, but both frantic and incoherent sentences are clearly spoken by Richie because of his use of “Eds.”

Eddie describes himself as feeling “clearer” as he is losing blood. He says all the “rage, pain, fear, confusion, and hurt” leaked out of him as he lays dying. These are all negative emotion and could be associated with It, but it feels broader than that. These emotions have been haunting Eddie his whole life and now, as he dies, he is finally free of them. He calls the negative emotions his “impurities,” likely because they were linked to his homosexual feelings.

Eddie knows he is dying and comforts himself by thinking it is “not bad at all” …but he has more to say. He wants to comfort Richie, who he finally acknowledges his feelings for now that he is “clear.” The surface-level interpretation of Eddie’s final words are: “You know I hate that” about Richie calling him “Eds,” but there are more subtle factors to consider.

Why would Eddie make those his last words? He says he has “something else he had to say first” so it doesn’t make sense that Eddie would say something he’s said to Richie countless times before. Also, Eddie was “thinking how to finish” but he wouldn’t need to think to tell Richie he hated his nickname. It’s much more likely that Eddie was halfway through a declaration of love, especially when you look at how tender the two are right before Eddie’s death.

Richie is the only Loser who can’t accept right away that Eddie has died.

Richie looks at Bill like he’s crazy for suggesting they continue to go after It when Eddie needs them because he is in denial about Eddie’s death. Richie prioritizes Eddie’s safety over defeating It and is only convinced to abandon Eddie’s body when he realizes that Eddie is truly dead. Beverly tells him to kill It so Eddie will not have died for nothing and the idea of adding meaning to Eddie’s death is what drives Richie.

Richie had to be convinced to kill It a moment ago, but now that he has accepted Eddie is dead, he cannot be deterred from the plan.

 

Richie is unsympathetic to Bill’s worry for Audra because his “lover” is dead and killing It for Eddie’s sake is all that matters to him in that moment.

Richie says a comedic line as he dismisses Bill’s concerns but is too “grim” to laugh about it. He has to steer Bill back to the task at hand because Bill’s desire to kill It stems from desperation over Audra’s condition and Richie’s is to ensure Eddie’s death was not meaningless.

Bill has always been It’s equal adversary because he’s the leader of the Losers Club and it was his brother who got killed. Therefore, both as a child and an adult, Bill is the one to perform the Ritual of Chud and enter the macro-verse. Here, though, Richie runs with him “stride for stride” and is an equally strong opponent against It. So, why the change?

The reason is that Bill and Richie have both lost someone they loved dearly–Georgie and Eddie respectively. Bill loved Eddie, too, and so it makes sense for he and Richie to use the “force of memory and… unforgotten childhood” to fight It. “Love” and “desire” are also powerful forces used against It and it makes sense for Bill to value those traits–he loves and desires Beverly, his childhood friend, and is fighting to save Audra’s life.

How do “love” and “desire” translate into Richie’s motivations, though? He is matching Bill “stride for stride” after all. It’s simple–Richie loved and desired Eddie, his childhood friend, and is fighting to avenge Eddie because he couldn’t save his life.

After killing It, Richie is still dwelling on Eddie’s death.

Richie acknowledges Eddie’s strengths here. He doesn’t see how they can escape the sewer without Eddie’s help and a part of him doesn’t want to.

Richie is the one who resists Bill, Ben, and Bev when they tell him to leave Eddie in the sewer, and he is the most broken up about it. Then, Richie has an interesting reaction.

Bev asks Richie why he did that, but it should be obvious. He has just lost Eddie to It, so it makes sense that he would be angry. They both lost a friend. However, consider the cheek kiss that happens directly before it. Richie’s last affection for Eddie clearly prompts his anger, but Bev doesn’t pick up on the connection.

Richie tells Beverly he doesn’t know why he had such an extreme reaction to Eddie’s death, but “he knew well enough.” These four words confirm that he loves Eddie and is aware of his homosexual feelings but is not willing to share that with the other Losers.

Beverly catches a glimpse of the lost, but not forgotten Losers in the storefront window.

An image of Stan and Eddie joining them, even imaginary and symbolic, brings Beverly and the reader great comfort. Stan and Eddie are not really gone because they live on in the hearts of those who loved them. Eddie’s position in the line-up, directly behind Richie, is no accident. He appears behind the man who loved him most as a comforting presence, even in death.

Images courtesy of Warner Bros. and Stephen King

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