Summary (Magill's Survey of American Literature, Revised Edition)
The Stand almost defies classification. While it is certainly a horror story in the sense that frightening events and supernatural powers are depicted, it also qualifies clearly as science fiction or epic fantasy and even as a political allegory. This last aspect is immediately apparent in the events which open the novel: Nearly all of the world’s population (99.4 percent) is killed in only three weeks after a superflu virus escapes from a U.S. Army biological warfare installation. The world as all have known it is destroyed.
A few people inexplicably survive to pick up the pieces. Stu Redman, a laconic Texan, is taken to a disease laboratory in Maine, where the few remaining government scientists hope to discover what has given him immunity. Realizing that the government plans to use him as a guinea pig, Redman flees the laboratory and soon meets Glen Bateman, formerly a New Hampshire sociology professor. Other survivors throughout the country also appear: Nick Andros, a deaf-mute genius, is wandering around rural Oklahoma, where he meets the retarded but amiable Tom Cullen. Larry Underwood, a rock singer on his way to New York, finds the city devastated. Soon, they and other characters begin having disjointed, prophetic dreams of a “dark man,” Randall Flagg, the personification of evil, and of Abigail Freemantle, a black woman more than a hundred years old who serves as God’s instrument and prophet. Each character is drawn toward one of the two: Some find Freemantle in her old cabin in a Nebraska cornfield; others follow Flagg in what appears to be the beginnings of a reborn American society in Las Vegas.
Flagg gathers to himself a large number of average-citizen types, who are deceived by his cunning into believing that they are salvaging civilization. He has also claimed many of the dregs of surviving humanity, such as Donald Elbert, a mad pyromaniac, and Lloyd Henreid, a mass murderer. Together, they help Flagg assemble a massive arsenal of destruction. As his technological power grows, Flagg begins to display supernatural powers: He can transform himself into animals and control minds.
With little more than Freemantle’s goodness and visions to guide and inspire them, Redman, Bateman, Underwood, and Ralph Brentner (a good-hearted farmer) undertake a long and torturous journey on foot to Las Vegas, where...
(The entire section is 965 words.)
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Summary (Masterplots II: American Fiction Series, Revised Edition)
On an air force base in California, a highly contagious flu virus is accidentally released, but a panicked employee escapes before the base is sealed, spreading the disease across the Southwest. The “super-flu” depopulates the country in a four-week period in July, 1985.
The only survivors are naturally immune to the disease, and within a week, each one dreams about two opposing forces, one heralded by the aged, pious Mother Abigail, who has received messages to prepare a meal for unknown guests. The other force is represented by the evil Randall Flagg, the infamous “walkin’ dude” or the “creeping Judas.” Flagg’s first convert is Lloyd Henreid, a convicted murderer starving in a jail cell in a prison of the dead. Just when Henreid seems forced to survive by cannibalism, he is mysteriously released: At Flagg’s command, Henreid bows down and worships him. The two set out across the country.
Meanwhile in New England, Harold Lauder and Frannie Goldsmith begin to look for a cure for the super-flu. To impress Frannie, Harold climbs on a barn roof and leaves a sign to inform any survivors who want to know where they have gone. On their trip, Mother Abigail calls them west in dreams, and on the way they meet Stuart Redman. Harold immediately becomes jealous of Redman, and begins to turn toward the dark force.
Larry Underwood, meanwhile, has also begun to go west following the signs left by Lauder.
(The entire section is 565 words.)
Summary (Masterplots, Fourth Edition)
Charles D. Campion, a soldier working in a military biological weapons facility, discovers that the containment measures securing one of the base’s weapons have been breached. Campion narrowly eludes the lockdown that follows and escapes the base, where people are already dying of the plague they have unleashed, an augmented strain of influenza known as superflu or Captain Trips. Campion flees home to pick up his wife and daughter and drives them east from California. He does not realize that he was infected by the superflu before he managed to flee the base.
Campion travels across the country, infecting many people. Roughly 99.4 percent of the human population is susceptible to the virus, and everyone infected by it dies. The other 0.6 percent are completely immune; on them, the virus has no effect. Finally, after stops in many states, Campion crashes his car into a gas station in a small town in Texas. He dies on the way to the hospital.
The medical examiner cannot determine what killed Campion and calls the Centers for Disease Control (CDC) in Atlanta, Georgia. Federal officials quarantine the small town of Arnett, Texas, while the military escorts the survivors to the CDC in Atlanta. Stuart Redman, an East Texas plant worker, ends up quarantined in Stovington, Vermont, after a brief stay in Atlanta. He is one of those who are immune to the disease. Doctors try to determine why he is immune in the hope of making a vaccine. After days of tests, the lone survivor at the CDC facility in Vermont is Redman.
Leaving the CDC, Redman roams New England, meeting Glen Bateman (a retired New Hampshire sociology professor) and Kojak, an Irish setter. The three travel together toward a farmhouse in Nebraska to which they are drawn by dreams of an old woman (Mother Abagail) sitting on her front porch. About half of the survivors of Captain Trips are having these dreams of the old woman. They travel toward Nebraska and the farmhouse from all over the United States. The travelers begin to find each other on the road, and they form groups to travel together safely. Redman, Bateman, and Kojak join Harold Lauder—a teenage social outcast—and Frances Goldsmith—a pregnant young lady in her early twenties. Harold and Frances are the only survivors from Ogunquit, Maine.
In New York City, Larry Underwood, a singer, meets Rita Blakemoor, a wealthy socialite and cocaine addict. They decide to travel together, but Blakemoor dies from a drug overdose, leaving Underwood alone. Underwood makes his way to Maine, where he meets Nadine Cross, a virginal teacher destined to become the wife of Randall Flagg, and a young boy she calls Joe. Before leaving Ogunquit, they see signs that Lauder has painted indicating that he and Goldsmith are going to Stovington. On the way to Vermont, the party of three meets others traveling toward what they hope is a place of sanctity.
Meanwhile, Nick Andros (a deaf-mute drifter from Arkansas on his way to Nebraska) finds Tom Cullen, a mildly retarded man, in Oklahoma. Later, the two men find Ralph Brentner, a farmer who seems to understand tools and machinery, on a stretch of highway somewhere between Oklahoma and Nebraska. These three travelers meet others who eventually become what Andros perceives as his family. Andros leads his group to Nebraska and Mother Abagail. Together, the parties of Redman, Andros, Underwood, and many others then...
(The entire section is 1391 words.)