Literature / The Stand

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Graffiti written on the front of the First Baptist Church of Atlanta in red spray paint:
"Dear Jesus. I will see you soon. Your friend, America. PS. I hope you will still have some vacancies by the end of the week."

One of Stephen King's best-regarded (and thickest) novels, The Stand is a classic work of modern apocalyptic fiction. It is the book which introduces (and primarily describes, on Earth at least) King's most famous villain and "antichrist" figure, Randall Flagg.

King set out to write "An American Lord of the Rings", although he later demurred as to whether he was successful. Still, it is often rated his most popular book, and, along with IT, one of the most important works of King's early period.

The story concerns the travels and travails of well over a dozen characters following intersecting story arcs across the United States during and after an apocalyptic Super-Flu nicknamed Captain Trips kills 99.4 percent of humanity. The survivors are left to cope with their loss and stay alive, until everyone starts having dreams that signal the arrival of an even darker menace...

First published in 1978, the novel was reissued in 1990 in a "complete and uncut edition" containing about 400 additional pages of material from King's original manuscript.

In the 1980s, a film adaptation was planned, but ultimately was not made due to the length of the book and issues with adapting the narrative. However, an eight hour made-for-tv Mini Series based on the novel, The Stand, aired for four nights on ABC in 1994 instead. A new attempt to bring a theatrical adaptation was announced in 2014. Ben Affleck was originally attached as director and screenwriter for the new attempt, but he decided to focus all of his efforts on playing Batman in the DC Cinematic Universe, and he subsequently handed over the reins of the project to Josh Boone (who directed the film adaptation of The Fault in Our Stars). Boone initially planned to split the big-screen adaptation into four installments released over several years. However, he eventually revised this plan to make an eight-part miniseries on Showtime that would tell most of the story, followed up by a feature-length film used to wrap up the remainder of the story - all of which should come out within relatively close proximity to one another. The change in plan is likely due to Boone's involvement with an X-Men spinoff, an adaptation of New Mutants.

Should not be confused with the songs "Stand" by Jewel, "Stand" by R.E.M. or "The Stand" by The Alarm; the Sly And The Family Stone album Stand!; or the Revolution episode "The Stand".

The novel contains examples of:

  • Abusive Parents: A few examples are seen here and there, two of the most obvious being Frannie's mother (who has an entire chapter devoted to showing how selfish and unreasonable she was with Frannie over the years) and Trashcan Man's biological father (who got drunk one night and shot the whole family, save for the five-year-old Trashy and his mother). In a sadly ironic but perhaps understandable twist, Trashy identifies with his father and hates his stepfather, "the father-killing sheriff," who shot his father in the line of duty and later married his mother. From what the reader can tell, the sheriff was a pretty stand-up guy who did his best by Trash, but eventually could no longer cover for the kid's unstable behavior and habit of arson and has to have him committed.
  • Abandoned Hospital: The Stovington hospital.
  • Adaptation Distillation: The Marvel Comics adaptation. Helps that it features a lot of the darker stuff that was cut from the network TV mini-series adaptation due to content issues, as well as exploring the psyches of several characters like Harold Lauder, who were given short shrift in the TV mini-series.
  • After the End: The world of The Stand goes through an apocalypse and then focuses on the struggles of the survivors.
  • Alas, Poor Villain:
    • Harold Lauder realizes that his own fall was not the fault of Stu or anyone else but entirely his own fault. At worst, he was manipulated. If he had just gotten over his petty grudge, he would have become a valued part of the community. It merely saddens him to realize this as he lies dying.
    • Trashcan Man is a true pyromaniac, and while he loves setting fires, he feels horribly guilty for the consequences of them. He can't control his own behavior, and actively hallucinates persecutors to voice his guilt when everyone dies out. He loves Flagg solely due to Flagg's manipulation of him, but can't even hold to that. Trash is ultimately just a very sick and dangerous man.
  • Aluminum Christmas Trees: Harold Lauder loves chocolate Payday bars. The chocolate Payday bars did exist at various times, but more often than not aren't available, leading some readers to wonder just what King is talking about.
  • Anyone Can Die: It starts with a super plague that kills 99% of the entire world, and after that there's a fairly high mortality rate among the survivors.
  • Armies Are Evil: The US military is portrayed as being willing to gun down civilians with no compunction. In the last days of the plague it degenerates into bands of mutineers, rioters and looters. Stu's group encounters one such band on the road, who have devolved into a rape gang.
  • Artistic License Ė Biology: During a short section from Kojak's point of view, it's said that all animals have some telepathy with others of the same kind. It's also said that Kojak would go on to live for 16 more years, although in real life anything longer than 16 years would be an exceptionally long lifespan for a dog.
  • Balls Of Fire: Flagg releases an Energy Ball at the climax.
  • Babies Ever After: Played with. The first baby to be born after the plague is only partially immune, due to having only one immune parent, and quickly dies. The first main character's baby is likewise partially immune, but survives.
  • Beneath the Earth: The Lincoln Tunnel. The Eisenhower Tunnel between Boulder and Las Vegas.
  • Big Bad: Randall Flagg of course, who would go on to become King's "ubervillain" via Canon Welding.
  • The Big Rotten Apple : Discussed (sort of) by Nadine and Larry. Nadine says "the Big Apple is baked," while they're discussing leaving New York City after most of the population is dead.
  • Big Damn Villains:
    • Flagg sending wolves to save Trashcan Man from The Kid.
    • And later played with when Trash delivers an atomic bomb to Vegas.
  • Bittersweet Ending: Stu and Fran are reunited, but most of the main characters die at God's behest. Humanity is on the path to recovery at the end, but Flagg is still alive (in the expanded edition).
  • Canon Immigrant / Ensemble Dark Horse: Flagg has since become one of King's most popular villains, and has since made numerous reappearances in other books.
  • Canon Welding: The Stand became part of The Dark Tower continuity (as did most of King's work).
  • Captain Ersatz:
    • The symbol of Flagg is a red Eye, which he uses to mentally scan the countryside. He's also a shapeshifter. Hmmmmm...
    • It's also hinted he's Nyarlathotep as well.
  • Catch Phrase: Somewhat, more in the miniseries than the book. Larry's hit song "Baby Can You Dig Your Man" is often sung by characters (ex. Trash and Glen in the movie, Joe and others in the book).
    • You come see me, ___. You and all your friends.
    • "My life for you!"
    • "M-O-O-N, that spells ___."
  • Censorship by Spelling: Campion uses it when he says that everybody died in the research facility in front of his little daughter.
  • Chandler's Law: According to King, Harold's bomb was caused by him having writer's block, and feeling the heroes were getting complacent in Boulder.
  • Character Development: Larry starts off as a selfish, arrogant Jerkass, but gradually grows enough to become the de facto leader of the heroes after Stu gets injured en route to Las Vegas.
  • Chaste Character: Nadine, for unfortunate reasons.
  • Chekhov's Gun:
    • The nuclear weapons out in the desert.
    • One random scene in the first part of the novel, when society is collapsing as the superflu runs wild, described the panicked flight of the citizens of Boulder, Colorado. The people of Boulder left the town en masse after a false rumor that the plague started at the Boulder Air Test Center. Much later, when survivors begin concentrating in Boulder, they find the town largely free of corpses.
  • City of Gold: Cibola! Seven-in-One! Las Vegas appears this way to Trash in a mirage.
  • Closest Thing We Got:
    • Since they are trying to rebuild society from scratch, there is a lot of this going on.
    • Stu Redman is forced to perform an appendectomy, though the guy dies as he's doing it. Later on, the Free Zone is forced to rely on a veterinarian until a doctor arrives, and even then the doctor tells the vet that he needs to train him to be better able to take care of humans, especially as the doctor is rather old.
  • Code Emergency: "Tell him 'Rome Falls'." It meant everything was screwed and it was time to put the plan to infect the rest of the world in motion.
  • Completely Different Title:
    • The Italian title of the book is "L'Ombra dello Scorpione" ("The Shadow of the Scorpion"). There is a line about Randall Flagg being "the shadow of the owl at midnight and the scorpion at high noon," but since the symbol is never repeated or expanded, it's a somewhat odd choice for the title.
    • On the other hand, the Swedish title, "Pestens Tid" ("The Age/Time of Pestilence/the Plague", depending on how you translate), arguably works better than the original.
  • Cosy Catastrophe: At the end of the book.
  • Covers Always Lie: The classic cover features a white-clad warrior with a sword battling a black-clad monster with a scythe and the head of a crow, which symbolically represent's the book's good vs. evil narrative, but can leave new readers pretty confused since it seems to hint at some sort of medieval High Fantasy rather than a modern post-apocalyptic story. A more recent cover features a man holding a bullet between his teeth which really just has nothing to do with the story at all, even on a symbolic level.
    • The more recent cover of the expanded edition features a foggy road strewn with corpses, which fits the story better than either of the aforementioned covers.
  • Creator Provincialism:
    • The action ranges across the country, quite a lot of it takes place in Maine (which is a frequent King locale) and Boulder (where he was living at the time of writing, and of which he is apparently quite fond).
    • King has said he regretted not mentioning what happens to the rest of the world... beyond speculation that there may be rival Flaggs popping up all over the globe in an apparent violation of the villain playbook. The book does make clear that the people running Project Blue deliberately spread it around the world once it's clear that there's no hope of saving America from annihilation.
  • A Date with Rosie Palms: Stu seems to imply he does it (at least before pairing up with Frannie), telling Harold early on that there's no need for rape when a man is good with his hands.
    • Referenced a few times with Harold. He's said to "smell like a shootoff in a haymow." He fantasizes about being King Harold while the girls from his high school service him, and Frannie notes that Harold has an X-rated film playing in his head at all times.
    • For Lloyd, in jail, it's "as good a way to get to sleep as any."
    • When Lloyd meets Nadine for the first time, she starts doing it in front of both him and Flagg, signifying her Sanity Slippage after Flagg rapes her and impregnates her with his demon child.
  • Deadly Game: The incident with black soldiers in a game show studio.
  • Dear Diary: Guess who reads Fran's Secret Diary?
  • Death by Irony: Harold spends at least two chapters writing and recording a Take That speech to be played by his bomb before it explodes. Nick, the only deaf character, is the only person in the house when it detonates.
  • A Death in the Limelight: One whole chapter of the book is dedicated to recounting the deaths of characters who had not appeared at all before that chapter. All are plague survivors; the chapter illustrates the secondary mortality rate of scattered survivors in an After the End world.
  • Disaster Democracy: Instituted (albeit in a modified form) in Boulder.
  • Doorstopper:
    • Many editions, especially foreign language ones, go so far as to split it up into multiple books (incidentally, this actually becomes a plot point in 20th Century Boys, which is the Japanese version of The Stand).
    • It's longer than War and Peace, Moby-Dick and some editions of The Bible.
    • The audiobook on CD is 37 discs long.
    • The Audible.com version is 47hrs and 52min.
  • Driven to Suicide:
    • Rita, Starkey, Dayna and Nadine and several others who were involved in Project Blue.
  • The Dog Bites Back: Trash blows up the airfield.
    • When Stu fakes the cough to see the reaction in the CDC doctor.
  • Due to the Dead:
    • Frannie Goldsmith burying her father in his garden, told in painful and realistic detail.
    • The claimed reason behind the creation of the Boulder Burial Committee. The real one being for health concerns.
  • Dying Town: Arnette, Texas, where the novel opens, is one of these even before the Captain Trips outbreak. Every city and town becomes one of these (literally and figuratively) as the virus spreads.
  • Dystopia Is Hard: The theme behind the Vegas plotline.
  • Emergency Presidential Address: The unnamed president gives one full with Implausible Deniability. While American society is falling apart due to the superflu, he still insists that the disease is not deadly. The speech is interrupted several times by the President's coughing fits.
  • The End of the World as We Know It: Lampshaded. The characters speculate on what will happen to all those corpses, how life will never be the same, etc.
  • Ensemble Cast: There's no real main protagonist to be found.
  • The Epic: National/"Biblical" variety.
  • Escort Mission:
    • Larry and Rita leaving New York.
    • Tom's return with Stu.
  • Earn Your Happy Ending: In spite of the hardships it faces, things end on a high note for the Free Zone and its denizens. Stu survives his voyage over the mountains, Fran has her baby, the Zone finds prosperity and humanity is safe from Flagg... for the time being.
  • Everybody's Dead, Dave
  • Evil Cannot Comprehend Good: Flagg's callous nature and personal obsessions are part of what makes Vegas fall. Glen easily manipulates him because of this.
  • Evil Tower of Ominousness: The MGM Grand Hotel in Las Vegas.
  • Evil Will Fail: Randall Flagg's half of civilization begins to deteriorate when the presence of so many volatile personalities mix in one society, fear stops being as effective for control, and every minor failure makes the Big Bad himself go into fits of rage and lose his focus, causing errors in judgement.
  • Exact Words / The Untwist: Mother Abagail's final prophecy.
  • Eye Scream: Nick loses an eye fighting with Ray Booth in the Shoyo jail.
  • Feedback Rule: Stu deals with this during his speech at the first public Free Zone meeting. He says they have to get used to technology again (most of Boulder still had no power but they had a generator set up for the meeting). Plus, Stu was also nervous.
  • Field Promotion: Several characters get one, most notably Nick.
  • Filk Song: "Among The Living" by the band Anthrax is a rock anthem about "The Walkin' Dude".
    • "The Stand" by The Alarm is confirmed to be about the book.
  • Foreshadowing: All over the place; some examples more subtle than others. A very subtle example when Glen Bateman and Stu Redman have this exchange shortly after meeting:
    Stu: I like to listen.
    Glen: Then you are one of God's chosen.
  • For the Evulz: The only reason Flagg does anything. Justified in that he's a Satan analogue.
  • For Want of a Nail: One wonders what would have happened if Campion hadn't gotten past the gates...
  • Freudian Excuse: Trashcan Man did not have a happy childhood, which prompted him to light fires as a sort of coping mechanism. This only gave his bullies more excuses to hurl taunts and insults at him, which only gave him more reason to light fires...and it went downhill from there.
  • From Bad to Worse: First the plague hits, then Randall Flagg appears and starts gathering an army to slaughter the survivors.
  • Ghibli Hills: America after the plague.
  • Gone Horribly Right: The superflu that the U.S. military cooked up. 99.4% effective...
  • Gone Horribly Wrong: ...and loose on American soil. And, thanks to a mean-spirited effort by the military, loose in other countries as well.
  • Good Hurts Evil: Characters drawn to Flagg are afraid of Mother Abagail in her dreams.
  • Government Conspiracy: The creation of the virus, and the attempt to suppress news of its outbreak, culminating in Stu's abandonment and near-death, is dwelt on. Various military misadventures occur offscreen; see Paranoia Fuel.
  • Green Aesop: The condition of the natural environment visibly improves in the months after the plague.
  • Here We Go Again: In the Extended Cut, Randall Flagg wakes up on a small island after the events of the climax. He introduces himself to the cowering natives and starts manipulating them with his charisma and charm.
  • Hidden Elf Village: The Boulder Free Zone. Has nothing to do with falling rocks.
  • I Just Shot Marvin in the Face: Several times, most notably Bobby Terry.
  • I Want Them Alive: "Flagg wants them taken alive."
  • Ill Guy: ...everyone, really; but especially Fran's dad in the miniseries.
  • Incurable Cough of Death:
    • Played straight. If a character coughs or sneezes, chances are they're a goner. Justified in that The Plague is an "on steroids" version of the flu, for which coughing is a typical symptom.
    • So straight that when Stu fakes a coughing fit to spite his caregiver-captors in Stovington, it sends them into a complete panic until he reveals the joke. And then subverted when he contracts but survives the actual flu.
  • Infant Immortality: Averted, since the flu doesn't spare the children. Even worse in the expanded edition, where a 4-year-old boy who survives the plague ends up dying anyway when he falls down a well, breaks his legs, and starves to death.
  • The Infiltration: The Boulder leadership sends Judge Farris, Dayna Jurgens and Tom Cullen to Las Vegas to join (and spy on) Flagg's operation. It goes horribly wrong.
  • I Resemble That Remark!: When Stu tells the doctor to take Geraldo, the guinea pig who's been breathing his air, he says, "Don't forget your guinea pig." He really means the other guinea pig.
  • Just Before the End: The story opens just a few minutes after the plague is released and begins infecting people.
  • Kick the Dog: Flagg runs into an innocent fawn. "Rub a dub dub, thanks for the grub!"
  • Kill 'em All: 99.4% pure example of this trope. Even among the main characters, the death rate is pretty high.
  • Kirk Summation: Whitney Horgan's speech is cut short.
  • The Last DJ: Ray Flowers. Literally.
  • Limited Special Collector's Ultimate Edition: The 1100-page "complete and uncut" edition.
  • Loads and Loads of Characters: Ten or twenty main characters following separate arcs in disparate locales. See here.
  • Look Behind You: Stu Redman tells the "doctor" who's been sent to terminate him at the Stovington hospital that there's a huge rat behind him, then hits him over the head with a chair. Lampshaded when Stu is so surprised it works as well as it does that he almost fails to follow up on his own distraction.
  • Lovecraft Country: uncharacteristically averted. New England ends up being the Arcadia that the two surviving heroes return to. Just avoid the hospitals in New England, as always.
  • Magical Negro: Mother Abigail, with her spiritual powers.
  • Magical Realism: It's a story about the conflict between humanity and itself. And Old Scratch.
  • Magpies as Portents: Uh oh. There's a corvid perched on a fencepost portending ill omens!
  • Mission from God: Mother Abigail tells Stu, Larry, Glen and Ralph that God wants them to go west and make a stand before Flagg.
    Mother Abigail: I donít know if itís Godís will for you to ever see Boulder again. Those things are not for me to see. But he is in Las Vegas, and you must go there, and it is there that you will make your stand. You will go, and you will not falter, because you will have the Everlasting Arm of the Lord God of Hosts to lean on. Yes. With Godís help you will stand.
  • Monochrome Casting: In both the book and the mini series, the only non-Caucasian characters in the good camp are Abigail, Leo and the Judge. Other than that, every single character stated to be black (book version) is either dead or joined up with Flagg. In many cases in the novel, the character's race is not mentioned.
  • Mundanger: While Flagg is aware of Harold before sending Nadine to him, everything Harold does before then is his own choice, without Flagg's influence.
  • New Eden: Discussed by Glen Bateman, who suggests Ludd Was Right.
  • Next Sunday A.D.:
    • Originally set in 1980, updated to 1990 in the expanded version. The inspiration for Flagg was Donald DeFreeze, the Patty Hearst kidnapper. (Another inspiration was then-current cult leader Jim Jones.)
    • The Limited Special Collector's Ultimate Edition (book) was updated with references to the Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles (comic only.)
    • In the original edition, Bobby Terry is reading a Howard the Duck comic shortly before the Judge comes driving by. The "remix" changes this to a Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles comic, King presumably worrying that his 90s readers wouldn't be so familiar with Howard.
    • The Dark Tower books explained this by saying the plague happened in different times in alternate realities; we just live in one where it hasn't hit yet.
  • Nice Job Breaking It, Hero: Barry Dorgan insults Trash at the airfield, causing him to revert to his old ways.
  • Not Too Dead to Save the Day: The spirit of Nick Andros leads Tom Cullen to save Stu's life.
  • Oh, and X Dies: Sort of:
    • When Dayna leaves Boulder, the narration states: "no one in the Zone ever saw Dayna Jurgens again". Indeed, she dies in Las Vegas.
    • When Larry, Glen and Ralph have to leave Stu behind, it's similarly stated that "they never saw Stu Redman again." However, Stu survives; it's the other three who don't.
    • While telling the story of what happened to Kojak in Nebraska, King parenthetically throws in: "Kojak lived another sixteen years, long after Glen Bateman died."
  • Our Nudity Is Different: Abagail remembers appearing on a talent show back in 1902. Before her, a woman performed a "racy French dance", showing her ankles.
  • Paranoia Fuel: In-universe, and extensively talked about by the characters themselves. One of the original "Evil US Government quarantines innocent civilians at gunpoint and leaves them to die" plots, it seemed uncharacteristically cynical (even for King) until, say 2005 (as if!) Capt. Trips itself.
  • The Plague: Captain Trips, in its early stages, is indistinguishable from a common cold or a flu except by a doctor who knows what to look for.
  • Poke in the Third Eye: Flagg to Abigail, Tom to Flagg.
  • Psychic Dreams for Everyone: The survivors receive prophetic dreams from both Mother Abigail and Randall Flagg.
  • The Stinger: Added to the Uncut edition, to strengthen the tie with The Dark Tower: Randall Flagg wakes up after the nuclear blast in another universe, and begins to take over a society once again. Ka is referenced.
  • Talking in Your Dreams
  • Take That: Several towards Ronald Reagan (in the 1990 edition). For instance:
    Larry: He [The Judge] is only seventy, for the record. Ronald Reagan was serving as President at an older age than that.Ē
    Fran: That's not what Iíd call a very strong recommendation.
  • Taking You with Me: Once America's leadership realizes they're doomed, they deliberately infect the rest of the world with Captain Trips.
  • Technology Is Evil:
    • Played straight. This book was written in the '70s and "back to the land" themes are prominent.
    • Captain Trips is a scientifically engineered Holocaust.
    • Flagg is described as "the last magician of rational thought." Glen speculates that Flagg is drawing all the "rationalist, engineer types" who want to quickly get the old society back up and running, military and all, while Mother Abagail attracts those seeking a Hidden Elf Village or Utopia and struggles to turn on the lights. It's not suggested that Straw Atheists are attracted to Flagg, however; merely people looking for quick solutions.
    • Interestingly, the book inverts the typical "Magic Versus Science" trope: supernatural forces merely take advantage of the sudden, artificially engineered holocaust to initiate the Apocalypse more or less.
  • Throw-Away Country: A divine wind ensures that Los Angeles gets the short end of a nuclear fallout incident entirely offscreen, thereby sparing the good guys. Don't even ask what happened to other countries.
  • Title Drop: Abagail, during her Final Speech.
    "And with God's help, you will stand..."
  • Too Dumb to Live: A whole chapter is devoted to incidents around the world.
  • Totally Radical: Teenage characters unironically calling cops 'pigs', which even in 1980 was a rather dated insult and had become all the more so when the setting had been updated to 1990.
  • Trademark Favorite Food: Harold and his chocolate Paydays.
  • Trains Run on Time: Las Vegas gets the utilities running in their city much more quickly than Boulder, and discipline is harshly enforced, with crucifixion being a common punishment for crimes as petty as recreational drug use.
  • Typhoid Mary: Campion; the second he and his family made it off the base and encountered other people, it was already entirely too late to contain Trips.
  • The Un Favourite: Frannie to her mother, and Harold to everyone.
  • Updated Re-release: Two updates of the novel were done. The mid-1980s one just tweaked a few cultural references. The Complete Uncut restored much of what King was forced to cut, either because it made the book too long or because it would have offended too many back in the 70s.
  • Walk into Mordor: The third act of the book centers on one.
  • We Are Not Going Through That Again: Stu and Fran's reason for leaving Boulder.
  • Wham Line: "After all, why else could he suddenly do magic?"
  • Who Watches the Watchmen?: The escape of Campion, the security guard at the research facility who spreads Captain Trips beyond hope of containment, is explained thusly:
    "He drove through the main gate just four minutes before the sirens started going off and we sealed off the whole base. And no one started looking for him until nearly an hour later because there are no monitors in the security posts—somewhere along the line you have to stop guarding the guardians or everyone in the world would be a goddamn turnkey...."
  • What Happened to the Mouse?: Major Len Creighton has a fairly substantial role in the first section of the book as General Starkey's second in command in Project Blue and after Starkey's suicide becomes the head of the military coverup. He's last 'seen' onpage talking over the radio to one of his officers in LA during the last days of the plague. It is very possible he died of the superflu but notably he gives no indications of being sick even at this very late stage, leaving his fate a mystery.
  • Wins by Doing Absolutely Nothing: A common criticism is that the protagonists don't really do much against The Empire created by Randall Flagg. His people are already losing faith in his infallibility by the time Our Heroes show up to make their titular stand, and desertions have become common. Then one of his tragically crazy henchmen shows up with a nuke in tow, which is detonated by Deus ex Machina. The heroes don't do much besides watch. And die.
    • Flagg calls together all of his followers to witness the protagonists' execution, allowing the nuke to take out all those who remained loyal to Flagg. It's actually a quite typical sort of stand for the novel's underlying Christian theme: drawing evil's power through nonresistance, so that it destroys itself.
  • Writer on Board: Glen Bateman is somewhere between The Professor and Mr. Exposition.
  • Xenofiction: Parts of the book are told from the perspective of Kojak, the dog.

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