18 March 2015
Alas, Babylon Annotated Reading
The current cover of Pat Frank’s Alas, Babylon depicts a peaceful setting that gives no indication of what lies inside for the reader. The introduction offers insight to the depth of the subject matter of the novel when he states: “They have a vivid memory of cities devastated from the skies as have the Germans and the Japanese . . . To someone who has never felt a bomb, bomb is only a word. . . It is not something that incinerates you to a cinder in a thousandth part of a second . . . which is why I am writing this book” (1). The reader can determine that Frank intends to give meaning to the word “bomb” as some sort of reality check. As the novel begins, the peacefulness of the cover persists as the daily routines of the people in Fort Repose, Florida, are elaborated upon for the first part of chapter one. When Randy receives the telegram from his brother, Mark, with the words “Alas, Babylon” causing him to “feel sick inside,” the mood of the novel begins to change (14). From that statement on, the story develops into an exploration of the harsh realities of a nuclear attack on the United States. Beginning with the preparations made by the few who are aware of what is to come and the limited number of people they permit themselves to alert, Frank keeps the majority of the novel in one small town with only occasional information coming in from the outside world. Each day of the events of the novel are detailed for the first week, providing the possible developments for persons who survive nuclear assault because they do not live in areas that are directly targeted. Direct targets are obliterated, while the small outlying areas have greater potential for survival, despite the loss of resources, such as electricity, only available from larger, more developed cities. Once the bombs have landed, each resource is cut off, one-by-one, either through possible radioactive side effects or the cutoff of supply. The citizens of Fort Repose must learn to ration the resources within the town, which creates a pre-industrial civilization complicated by the inability of the average American to utilize what is available in nature. Frank explores the necessity of the survivors to think beyond the technologies to which they have become accustomed and begin to develop a whole new structure to their society. The best possible scenario for post-nuclear war is depicted, which gives insight to the reader if ever the need arises.
I found that Frank developed characters to whom I could relate. For example Florence, who could only comprehend politics that existed in societies similar to her own. The statement: “She did not understand, and could not become interested in, the politics of the Middle East” could have just as well described me, or any other average American (3). While the fact that “There had always been depression, or war, or threat of war” causes us to pay attention to some of what is going on in the world, there is still the tendency to believe that it will never happen to America (13). Once the detailed descriptions begin bringing home the possibility that safety is only an illusion, I found it easy to relate to Randy as “he forced himself to imagine the unimaginable” (17). The minute changes that occur in how people would begin to think were dramatically pointed out when Randy finds the woman who wrecked her vehicle. Having the events of a single day create a “yesterday [that] was a past period in history, with laws and rules archaic as ancient Rome’s” is a very frightening concept. Although the lines: “Today the rules had changed . . . Today a man saved himself and his family and to hell with everyone else” seemed to only take modern behaviors a few steps further than they already are. I cannot help but think how devastating the changes would be today when we are already a self-centered society. (90) Frank describes the oblivion with which most of...
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