Critical Context

(Masterpieces of American Fiction)

This is a difficult novel for several reasons. The first is the length: the 1978 Doubleday edition has 823 pages of minuscule print. Besides the length, the book is difficult to follow. King’s style here shifts to first-person narrative as each character is introduced, and many times pages of action follow before the reader is absolutely sure that a new and different character is being discussed. Finally, the novel is difficult because it has two endings. The first comes when the forces of good and evil are finally ready for a showdown: An atomic explosion sent from the hand of God destroys Flagg, his cohorts, and some of the good people from Boulder who are coming after Flagg. The second ending comes later, after Redman, who survived the blast in Las Vegas, returns to Boulder to discover that society has begun again. There is hope, but also fear that the forces which created the original super-flu and the original atomic bomb will one day create the same nightmare all over again.

Yet despite some flaws, The Stand is an important novel. It marks King’s first attempt to deal with major issues such as the atomic bomb and secrecy in governmental research. It also portrays King’s considerable power to horrify; many of the scenes in which Randall Flagg shows his powers are unforgettably frightening. Finally, King shows his growing deftness with characterization in his portraits of Flagg and Stuart Redman.