Themes and Meanings

(Masterpieces of American Fiction)

The Stand, King’s fifth novel, is a contemporary version of the Apocalypse. The four horsemen of the Scriptures are all here, and the “super-flu” serves the function of plague. Like many modern writers, King chooses United States government research as the source of the epidemic which wipes out virtually everyone in the country. The super-flu is 99.4 percent fatal and is initially developed as a weapon. Ironically, the super-flu escapes when an accident in the secret research unit frees the virus. It is carried by an escaping soldier who infects an entire town before he dies in agony.

In choosing the government as the instrument of destruction, King plays on contemporary fears—fears which, growing since the Vietnam War and nourished by Watergate, are manifested in a number of contemporary novels. King himself used sinister government characters or research in The Dead Zone (1979) and Firestarter (1980).

Randall Flagg, the anti-Christ, is also a creation of contemporary fear, especially the fear that satanic power lies behind the evil that we see on television or read about in the newspapers. When confronted with the reality of Lee Harvey Oswald’s assassination of President John F. Kennedy, or a gang of racists wearing sheets of their own design to frighten and torture blacks, many people can find an explanation only in the agency of some superhuman evil. Flagg is presented as a source of such evil. He walks the land, and a great darkness is with him. His action in commanding Lloyd Henreid to fall down and worship him is the first time that the viewer sees Flagg in motion. Later in Las Vegas, where he sets up his kingdom, Flagg shows more of his power as he draws the weak (such as Harold Lauder, eaten up by jealousy) to his side. At this point, he seems too strong to be defeated under any circumstances, but he is gradually weakened by his own evil emotions and his uncontrollable temper.