Study Guide

Steve Harmon in Monster

By Walter Dean Myers

Steve Harmon

 

Though there's only one of him in his screenplay, Steve plays quite a few roles in the novel. Grab some popcorn, and we'll settle down and munch on a few of them.

Steve as Defendant

Guilty or not guilty? That is the question. And like Shakespeare's Hamlet, the answer means life or death. If Steve is found guilty of felony murder, he's looking at twenty-five years to life in prison. Not cool for a kid in the middle of high school.

So what's the verdict? Let's look at the facts as we know them (and we know a bit more than the ol' prosecuting attorney does).

Guilty 

  • Steve hung out with some shady dudes. His neighborhood was an honest-to-goodness thug-a-thon. James King, Osvaldo Cruz, and Freddy Alou made up a few of the tough guys Steve swapped dialogue with on occasion. King even invited him to play a part in the drugstore "payday" (14.2).
  • Steve thought those shady dudes were pretty dang tough. Doesn't mean he was one of them. He admits to himself, though, that "I had looked at him and wanted to be tough like him" plenty of times (7.23) in reference to King.
  • Steve might have been the lookout. He says he wasn't there, but King gave him the option. And he admits, "I walked into a drugstore to look for some mints, and then I walked out" in his notebook (13.12).

Innocent 

  • Jail terrifies Steve. No joke—he's scared stiff of the guys in there. No way he's one of them, and no way he belongs there. 
  • He's not violent. "Everyone [in jail] either talks about sex or hurting somebody or what they're in for" (13.12). Sure, Steve thinks about why he's there, but sex and violence? He's only looking for ways to escape them.
  • He's a good kid. His fave teacher, Mr. Sawicki, calls him "talented, bright, and compassionate" (18.176). He loves his little bro, Jerry, too. "I'm just not a bad person," he writes in his journal, "I know that in my heart I am not a bad person" (7.10).

Is Steve an accomplice to murder or an innocent kid?

Steve as Monster

Steve's greatest conflict is not really the trial itself, though it's certainly stressful and difficult. He fights his worst battles in his head, as he tries to figure out if he's truly a monster. That's what Prosecutor Petrocelli calls him, and he can't help but dwell on it. Is he a monster? Sometimes he feels like he is. He writes that he feels like the word monster is tattooed on his forehead. And why shouldn't he feel like a monster? When he smiles at a pretty juror, she looks away, and when he "looked at the kids in the class, they turned away […] quickly" (7.26). The way others see him makes him want to throw up, and he even worries that his parents no longer see him as the good son they once knew.

Steve, then, continually battles others people's perceptions of himself with his own belief in his goodness. He sees himself as a good, moral kid. Yeah, he's made mistakes, but he's not a criminal—especially when he compares himself with the crazy thugs he's splitting a cell with. While they beat each other up over a look, Steve never once contemplates using violence against others. The only violence he considers is toward himself—suicide if he's convicted.

Steve wants to believe in his bunny rabbit core, but he also cares a lot about what others think. It was wanting to look tough at the neighborhood hangout that got him into this mess, and now to get out of it he needs to look innocent. Unfortunately, the damage has already been done—whether or not he is found guilty, what others think will continue to haunt Steve's own perception of himself.

Steve as Filmmaker

Filmmaking begins as a hobby for Steve—he admires his film teacher, he's good at it, and he enjoys "depicting his neighborhood and environment in a positive manner" (18.176).

But during the trial, filmmaking becomes Steve's mode of survival. Through his screenplay, he can separate himself from his inner and outer fears and make sense of his experience (check out our "Symbols" section for more on this).

After the trial, filmmaking becomes Steve's way of examining his conscience. He starts

taking movies of myself. In the movies I talk and tell the camera who I am, what I think I'm about. […] I wear different clothes and sometimes try to change my voice. […] I want to know who I am. I want to know the road to panic that I took. I want to look at myself a thousand times to look for one true image. (21.2,3,5)

Steve is a lot of things in Monster, but in the end it turns out he's also just a kid trying to figure out who he really is.