Analysis of Larry from “The Stand”
One of the most human characters in The Stand is Larry Underwood. He grows and develops more than most, and he also seems to be the one who has the hardest decisions to make. I watching Larry grow was fascinating, and I was always pulling for him to make it out all right.
When we first meet Larry, he’s a selfish guy. In the past, he threw his childhood friend out of the apartment in which they lived together because of an argument over five dollars (Uncut Version 224). His longest-lasting relationship, 14 months with a topless dancer named Yvonne, were the best days of his life “until the last six weeks or so, when Yvonne got to be kind of a b—-“ – and those days were long gone. He’s just made it to the big time with his hit single “Baby, Can You Dig Your Man?” (35), and he decides to throw a big party at his house. As the night goes on, the bills pile up. Luckily, a bandmate of his, Wayne Stukey, wakes him up and straightens him out: Larry’s in debt, and he needs to escape from it all and let the money take care of itself. Larry says he can’t just tell all the people to live his house, and his friend replies, “You’ll tell them. Because there’s a hard streak in you. There’s something in you that’s like biting on tinfoil. You’ll have a nice little career. Middle-of-the-road pop no one will remember in five years. The junior high boppers will collect your records. You’ll make money” (42).
With these none-too-encouraging words in mind, Larry flees to New York. He holes up with his mother and has a one-night stand with an oral hygienist, who repeatedly screams “You ain’t no nice guy!” as he leaves. “I hope you rot! I hope you fall in front of some f—in’ subway train! You ain’t no singer! You’re s—ty in bed! You louse! Pound this up you’re a–! Take this to your mother, you louse!” (82-83).
Indeed, there is something in Larry that’s like biting on tinfoil. In the beginning, he isn’t a nice guy. He’s selfish and insensitive. He only cares about self-preservation, the kind of attitude a man needs in the hard-boiled land of entertainment where people take every opportunity to rip each other off. A friend of mine said he didn’t like Larry in the beginning because he didn’t know if Larry was good or bad, and I would have to concur.
The plague changes Larry. He returns home to find his mother dead (155), and a few days later, he meets Rita Blakemoor. She’s a lady in her 50s, used to worldly ways and weighed down by pills. She tags along with him; upon starting their trip out of New York, she says “the beginning of a journey” and then quotes Tolkien: “the way leads ever on” (297). Yet she soon shows she’s not the survivor type. On the way out of the city, he finds that her feet have been bleeding from the sandals she’s wearing. ”Your feet have been hurting you for twenty f—ing blocks and you didn’t say anything?” he shouts (300). After a long exchange, he leaves her behind. Voices torment his mind, especially his mother’s, who says “you’re a taker, Larry” (301). This idea of selfishness haunts him for most of the story.
Yet he finds he truly cannot work with Rita. He reunites with her in the Lincoln Tunnel and promises to be her protector, a sign that his life is not all about self-preservation anymore. He protects her while continuing to be selfish, alternatively enjoying her company (including sex) and exasperated with her pampered lack of toughness.
After a rough night on July 3rd, he awakens on the Fourth and goes outside to sing, expecting to have sex after his song. When he returns to the tent, however, he finds Rita has died of a pill overdose (368). He never buries her; he’s too afraid to do it. He packs up this things and leaves. At first he feels exhilarated to be alone, but then he’s saddened and lonely. “So why wasn’t he feeling so bad, anyway? He was telling the truth, wasn’t he? Yes. And the worst of the truth was that he felt relief, wasn’t it? That the stone around his neck was gone? No, the worst is being alone. Being lonely” (370). Larry acknowledges that he needs other people in his life. Without Rita, he grows. He thinks about the things he did and how they might have contributed to her death. He learns to be responsible.
Later, he meets Nadine and Joe and in his relationship with them shows his newfound sense of responsibility and his growth. When he meets Joe, Joe is a savage boy who wants to kill him, but Larry finds that he and Joe both love the guitar. ”Music hath charms to soothe the savage beast,” he muses (441) when he gives Joe the guitar. He finds Joe is very talented, and their relationship begins. As the story develops, Larry and Joe become even better friends, and Joe comes out of his shell to become a real person.
Nadine, however, is a different story. They are mutually attracted to each other, but Nadine refuses to have a relationship with him. If she did, she would be saved from Flagg, but she holds out until the end. When that end comes, Larry is too far into a relationship with another woman; if he took Nadine, he would be ruined. “Whatever you want from me, you could have had. You could have had it last week or the week before. The week before that I asked you to take it. I wanted you to have it” (759). He refuses her, and she leaves his life forever, opting instead to follow Randall Flagg and Harold, whom Larry once had admiration for (662-669).
Larry’s refusal of Nadine is one of the gray-area decisions of the book: he could have saved her, but it would have destroyed him. He sticks with his decision. It shows his mastery over sexual desire and the deepening of his sense of responsibility. He also shows this in his relationships with Lucy and Joe and his nomination for and acceptance of a post on the Free Zone Permanent Committee: “Anyway, the Judge told Nick that Larry’s just the kind we’re looking for. He said Larry was just getting around to finding out he was good for something, and that he was going to get a lot better,” Stu says of him then (687).
It is not surprise, then, that Larry finally becomes the leader of the small group of men going to Las Vegas to face off with Randall Flagg (1041). Stu is the first leader, but after his injury leaves him unable to continue, Larry takes over and leads the group until his death. He comes a long way from the man he once was, and this is never more evident than in the Las Vegas Prison. He knows God must exist after witnessing Mother Abigail’s amazing last moments (906-909), so that’s whom he supports. “I will fear no evil,” he says to comfort himself (1054).
As the day of execution comes closer, he’s not afraid. “He had felt the two people that he had been in his life – the real one and the ideal one – merged into one living being. His mother would have liked this Larry. And Rita Blakemoor. It was a Larry to whom Wayne Stukey never would have had to tell the facts. It was a Larry that even that long-ago oral hygienist would have liked. I’m going to die. If there’s a God – and now I believe there must be – that’s His will. We’re going to die and somehow all of this will end as a result of our dying” (1060).
Larry has become a giver, not a taker, and he’s a generally likeable man. Larry’s life ends in the brilliant flash of light of an atomic bomb, and he leaves the world a happy, peaceful, and successful man.
Characters like Stu and Nick are good from the start, and we know we can stick with them until the end. People like Harold and Nadine have the potential for good but throw it away for evil. It is Larry who really fulfills his potential by becoming a good man at the end of the story. In death, he is victorious. He’s an emotional, inspiring character, and if he were real, I would admire him.
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