At the time of the story, many people of the "older generation" were troubled by the social confusion seen in the 60's and the development of individuality and freedom amongst the "younger generation”.
The story shows the contrast between individuality and conformity. Through this book we can see Harold’s evolution. Firstly he is a conformistbecause of his education, and he learns to become free and an individual. He learns to live for himself and not for the others. The individuality is represented by Maude, she doesn’t accept the rules of the society. She does whatever she wants and she loves life. She sets about changing Harold, teaching him the joys of life. All the other characters are conformist and very conventional.Mrs. Chasen, the psychiatrist, Uncle Victor, and the priest fail to persuade Harold to adopt a conventional lifestyle that they would feel comfortable with and which they would pretend to enjoy.
Most of the characters are conventional. For example Harold’s mother represents the conformity: she is part of the high society, she believes in values like marriage, Church, patriotism. Sheworries about appearances to be well accepted in the “good” society and therefore she wants her son to be married and to have a good job.
Mrs. Chasen's questionnaire responses illustrate her conventional convictions:
MRS. CHASEN (p.17-19)
"Three - should sex education be taught outside the home?"
I would say No, wouldn't you, Harold?
[...] Is the subject of sexbeing over-exploited by our mass media?
That would have to be "Yes," wouldn't it. [...]
"Seventeen - Do you believe churches have a strong influence to upgrade the general morality?"
- yes, again. [...]
"Nineteen - Can God influence our lives?"
Yes. Absolutely yes. [...]
"Do you think the sexual revolution has gone too far?"
It certainlyseems to have.”
This questionnaire, which should be addressed to her son, is only answered by her . She doesn’t really ask him his opinion and decides for him the convictions she would like him to have. Through these questions she wants to find him a wife, another choice that she makes by herself. The priest also thinks that it’s a good thing to be married and have children which follows Godand society’s will.
The uncle of Harold is conformist by another way : he’s very patriotic, he thinks that a man should work in the army and die for his country. A career in the army is the only way a man can choose if he doesn’t want to be married, in the conformist vision of course.
The psychiatrist enforce all the ideas of conformity developed in the book by pseudo-scientific assumptions.He works without taking any real consideration to the true personality of his patients. He wants to bring Harold back to more conventional behaviour, disregarding the reasons and the context of his strange attitude.
Maude represents freedom and individuality , she is a free-spirited older woman who's high on life. She doesn’t respect the traditional values of law and order,"liberating" a dying tree, reckless driving without a license, "borrowing" other's cars, stealing the cop's motorcycle amongst other examples. Maude philosophizes continuously about living life to the fullest, about rebellion and nonconformity, about individualism, spontaneity and libertarian attitudes. Maude loves trying something new, like driving Harold's hearse:
MAUDE (p.25)“I like to keep a variety. I'm always looking for the new experience, like this one.”
She is always looking for new enriching experiences unlike the conventional people trying to stay in the normality. Despite of her age, her vision of life makes her look younger than most of all other characters.
HAROLD’S EVOLUTION ON INDIVIDUALITY:
Everyone wants Harold to live his life in the way...