There are many excellent characters in Stephen King’s novel The Stand: Stu Redman, Larry Underwood, Tom Cullen, Nick Andros, and Frannie Goldsmith are among the most varied and human personalities I have yet encountered in my reading and give life to this 1141-page book. The one who I feel is the most real and most dynamic is Harold Emery Lauder. He is not my favorite character, but his actions and motivations are very human.
Harold doesn’t make a smashing first impression: he is rather unattractive, an outcast of Oginquit at eighteen years old. His hair is black and greasy; he weighs two hundred forty pounds, and in the words of his sister Amy, he “whacks off in his pants”. Frannie doesn’t really care, but nonetheless she feels “as if she sensed by low-grade telepathy that almost every thought Harold had was coated lightly with slime” (Uncut Version 238). His personality doesn’t win her over, either; he reacts rather casually to the death of his own parents. When Frannie leaves the scene where they meet, “she knew Harold would be watching her jiggling buttocks, storing up the footage for whatever X-rated movie played constantly in his head, and that made her angrier, sadder, and more weepy than ever” (242).
There is more to Harold than meets the eye, however. Later, he talks about the deaths in his family, which he had casually brushed off earlier: “I want my mother…I thought when it happened, when she died, ‘Now that wasn’t so bad’…But I never knew how I would take it when they passed away. I’m a very sensitive person. That’s why I was so persecuted by the cretins at that house of horrors the town fathers saw fit to call a high school. I thought it might drive me mad with grief, their passing, or at least prostrate me for a year…my interior sun, so to speak, would…I would say to myself, ‘now that wasn’t so bad’…Why can’t I say what I mean? I’ve always been able to say what I meant! It’s a writer’s job to carve with language, to hew close to the bone, so why can’t I say what it feels like?” (318)
Indeed, on the inside, Harold is a frightened, lonely boy. He was a pariah in high school and even in his own family. He always feels like he’s on the outside, and even when he is accepted, he doesn’t realize it. This is true even near the end of the book: “Although Nadine had said little about her reasons for coming back to him, Harold had an idea that she had been excluded in some way, too, rebuffed, turned back. They were a couple of outsiders, and outsiders hatch plots. It’s perhaps the only thing that keeps them sane” (816). When she becomes aware of this, Frannie pities him and promises to be his friend. Harold falls in love with her; when Stu Redman joins them, Harold’s love becomes a major conflict in the story.
Harold’s strongest emotion toward Stu is jealousy. This is apparent even when the two first meet; Harold already sees him as a threat. He accuses Stu of being a liar, tries to take ownership over Frannie, and refuses his companionship on the journey. Stu observes, “…the boy impressed him as a frightened blowhard. And a frightened blowhard could be a very dangerous man, under the right circumstances…or the wrong ones” (377).
The real problem behind the love triangle of Harold, Stu, and Frannie is Harold’s lack of self-confidence. “He [Harold] wasn’t just jealous of the girl; that had been a bald oversimplification on his [Stu’s] part.” His personal dignity was wrapped up in it, and his new image of himself as the girl’s protector. God knew what kind of a f—up he had been before all this, with this wad of belly and his pointy-toed boots and his stuck-up way of talking. But underneath the new image was the belief that he was still a f—up and always would be. Underneath was the certainty that there was no such thing as a fresh start. He would have reacted the same way to Bateman, or to a twelve-year old kid. In any triangle situation he was going to see himself as the lowest point” (381).
Stu makes a promise that he won’t try to take Frannie away from Harold, and Harold believes him. Life isn’t that simply, however; at dinner that very night, Stu watched Frannie, “And that was the beginning of his knowing that he did want her, after all” (382).
Harold’s image through the first half of Book II is of a contrasting figure: brilliant but insufferably snotty. He’s constantly looking for arguments; according to Frannie, “…one of the things that makes Harold hard to like is how eager he is to show off how much he knows” (521). He keeps himself between Stu and Frannie, causing problems for both. Frannie writes in her diary one night, “(Oh dear, I’m falling in love with him [Stu], I think I’ve got the world’s most crushable crush, if only it wasn’t for Harold I’d take my damn chances!”) (525)
Ultimately, his hopes of a relationship with Frannie are crushed on two separate nights. On July 19th, he confesses his love to Frannie in hopes of having sex with her. She refuses and tells him she doesn’t love him. Then on August 1st, Stu and Frannie begin their relationship with sex – while Harold watches in the bushes.
This throws Harold over the edge. He reads Frannie’s diary, learning the truth about how she feels, and subsequently starts his own. The first line: “My great pleasure this delightful post-Apocalypse summer will be to kill Mr. Stuart Dog-Cock Redman; and just maybe I will kill her, too” (858). Harold learns to h ate. He develops a politician’s façade to cover his contempt, and the other Boulderites fall for it, Ralph for one. “Ralph liked Harold, who always seemed to have time to listen and commiserate with whoever had a sad tale to tell…and Harold never seemed to want anything in return” (717). Other characters are very suspicious, namely Stu (“Harold’s eyes didn’t waver from Stu’s, and they kept their slightly humorous, pleasant light, but Stu had a momentary feeling that Harold’s smiling eyes were like sunshine on the water of Brakeman’s Quarry back home – the water looked so pleasant, but it went down and down to black depths where the sun had never reached, and four boys had lost their lives in pleasant-looking Brakeman’s Quarry over the years” (717-718), Fran (“He’s changed…even if I don’t know how or why or even if it’s for the best…and sometimes I’m afraid”) (675), and Leo (“But he’s not like us. He smiles a lot. But I think there might be worms inside him, making him smile. Big white worms eating up his brain. Like maggots”) (682). Nevertheless, Harold becomes a popular man in the community and even earns a nickname, “Hawk”.
Leo’s comment really hits the mark about Harold at this stage. He acts friendly by day and spews hate into his Ledger by night. One memorable quote from it is “It is said that the two great human sins are pride and hate. Are they? I elect to think of them as the two great virtues. To give away pride and hate is to say you will change for the good of the world. To embrace them, to vent them, is more noble; that is to say that the world must change for the good of you. I am on a great adventure” (672). Words like this display the terribly misguided path Harold is taking. He embraces Randall Flagg’s way (817-818), accepts Nadine Cross into his life, and then builds a bomb to kill off The Committee (839-841). When he reaches the point of no return, he looks back. “Maybe I don’t want to anymore,” Harold whispers to Nadine. “Too late, Harold,” she replies. And so Harold leaves town (865).
When we hear from Harold one more time at the end of the book, he is once again a changed man. He’s been abandoned by Randall Flagg and Nadine; he is a tool that has outlived its usefulness. He realizes this and reflects sadly on his downfall. “He had fallen victim to his own protracted adolescence; it was as simple as that. He had been poisoned by his own lethal visions.” “I could have been something on Boulder” (965). He has realized the error of his ways and taken responsibility for them. This, and his feelings of remorse, are shown in his final message:
“I apologize for the destructive things I have done, but do not deny that I did them of my own free will. On my school papers, I have signed my name Harold Emery Lauder. I signed my manuscripts – poor things that they were – the same way. God help me, I once wrote it on the roof of a barn three feet high. I want to sign this by a name given me in Boulder. I could not accept it then, but I take it now freely. I am going to die in my right mind.” Then he shoots himself and dies an honorable man.
Harold is a tragic yet dynamic character. He goes from a lonely, sensitive boy to a jealous egomaniac to a deceptive hater to an honorable man. It’s quite a shift and the reason I think he’s the most interesting and realistic character. We can learn from Harold’s mistakes: do not hate; develop self-confidence and be comfortable with oneself; reach out to other people…Harold is an amazing character in an amazing story which I highly recommend.