Dealing with the Past and the Present

I have two items for today’s write-up of Stephen King’s The Stand: The Complete and Uncut Edition:

1.  In Chapter 34, we’re introduced to Donald Merwin Elbert, also known as the “Trashcan Man”.  The Trashcan Man is a pyromaniac, and he got his nickname by burning people’s trash.  But his burning of things got to be a menace: he burned an old lady’s pension check in her mailbox, he burned down a church, etc.

As is often the case in Stephen King’s books, a troubled character has a troubled past.  Trash’s father was a violent criminal, who put his family on the run.  Trash’s father was shot by the sheriff, who then went on to marry Trash’s mother.  As Trash’s pyromania got to be too much, the sheriff (against the wishes of Trash’s mother) sent Trash to an electroshock treatment facility in Terre Haute, Indiana (which is close to where I grew up).  After getting shock treatment, Trash had a hard time remembering things.  He’d study for a test, forget what he studied, and get a 60 or a 40.  Moreover, other people made fun of him and threw things at him.

In Chapter 34, the people Trash knew have died of the superflu.  Trash is about to burn up a facility, and he sees a bug struggling in a puddle of gasoline.  On page 292, we read: “I’m like that bug, he thought resentfully, and wondered what kind of a world it was where God would not only let you be caught in a big sticky mess like a bug in a puddle of gas, but leave you there alive and struggling for hours, maybe days…or, in his case, for years.  It was a world that deserved to burn, that was what.”

Trash asks a good question.  And one way to respond to the unfairness of life—in which some people are powerlessness and not allowed a shot at a good life—is to hate the world.  A more appropriate way is to try to make the world better.  How one can do that, I do not always know.  It would have been nice for Trash (and society) had he found some other outlet for his pain than pyromania.

2.  Chapter 35 is about Larry, who is with a lady named Rita.  Page 302 states:

“She had asked him in a casual manner what he did for a living…the casual manner, he reflected with some resentment, of a person for whom anything so simple as ‘a living’ had never been a problem.  I was a rock and roll singer, he told her, slightly amazed at how painless that past tense was.  Sing with this band for a while, then that one.  Sometimes a studio gig.  She had nodded and that was the end of it.  He had no urge to tell her about ‘Baby, Can You Dig Your Man?’—that was the past now.  The gap between that life and this was so large he hadn’t really comprehended it yet.  In that life he had been running away from a cocaine dealer; in this one he could bury a man in Central Park and accept that (more or less) as a matter of course.”

Larry had the ability to move on with life.  He could not bring back his former life and fame, so why worry?  He had to cope with his present.  In a sense, he had a chance for a new beginning, and there were some blessings to that—for example, he was no longer being chased by a cocaine dealer!

The Stand deals some with the issue of how people interact with their past.  Larry can leave his past behind.  My impression is that Stu does so, too, since his past was so painful, with its frustrated dreams and the death of his wife when she was young.  The pain may be there, but Stu has gotten used to bearing it and moving on.  Harold has difficulty putting his past behind him, however, for his resentment at having been a nerd whom people picked on hinders him from accepting his new image as a respected member of the community.  And Trashcan Man has a hard time putting out of his mind his horrible past and the people who made fun of him, even though they passed away due to the superflu.

About jamesbradfordpate

My name is James Pate. This blog is about my journey. I read books. I watch movies and TV shows. I go to church. I try to find meaning. And, when I can’t do that, I just talk about stuff that I find interesting. I have degrees in fields of religious studies. I have an M.Phil. in the History of Biblical Interpretation from Hebrew Union College in Cincinnati, Ohio. I also have an M.A. in Hebrew Bible from Jewish Theological Seminary, an M.Div. from Harvard Divinity School, and a B.A. from DePauw University.
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