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Free Study Guide: Alas, Babylon by Pat Frank - Free BookNotes

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In this chapter, we are introduced to several of the major characters and the setting of Randy Bragg’s neighborhood. Randy’s ancestor, a U. S. Navy lieutenant, was assigned in the 1830s to establish control over this part of Florida to protect U.S. troop movements along the coast. From his log blockhouse, the town of Fort Repose would eventually develop.

Randy lives on his share of the proceeds of a trust his father established, and on his share of the proceeds from his family’s orange groves. Their orchard and its income is not large, but it provides him with a comfortable income. The Bragg house is much larger than a bachelor needed, so most of it went unused. Not having need of a job, Randy is able to spend many of his mornings searching for the supposedly extinct Carolina parakeet - he thinks he has seen one, but it is actually Florence Wechek’s escaped pet lovebird.

Randy receives a telegram from his brother, Mark, a colonel in the U.S. Air Force. Mark says he will be at a nearby military base and wants to talk to Randy. He indicates in his telegram that he is sending his wife and children to stay with Randy, and ends the telegram with “Alas, Babylon.” This phrase comes from the Bible and was thundered from Preacher Henry’s pulpit when the Bragg brothers were boys. They adopted the phrase as their private code meaning disaster or catastrophe, or just bad luck. Randy recalls meeting Mark the previous year, with Mark telling him about the rapidly deteriorating world situation and what it could mean for the U.S. In the event of imminent war, Mark would not be able to tell Randy directly, but would signal him with the phrase “Alas, Babylon.”

Mark, being an intelligence officer in the military and attached to the Strategic Air Command (SAC), was in a position to know what was really occurring in U.S.-Soviet relations and developments in the Soviet military. Upon receiving the telegram, Randy understands its meaning - war is imminent - and he knows he must prepare for the arrival of Mark’s family, as well as be ready to meet Mark on his stop-over


Fort Repose is no different from any other small southern town of the 1950s. It has its town gossips and busybodies, its well-to-do and its working poor, its playboy bachelors and its fussy spinsters. The people are basically uninterested in world events - they are more interested in the entertainment offered by the television and radio rather than in the news that will soon change their lives forever. Being a rural town with small farms and citrus groves nearby, it will be ideally situated to survive the coming war, but the people of Fort Repose do not yet know this.

Randy, a playboy bachelor with a trust fund, once had Rita Hernandez, a Minorcan resident of nearby Pistolville, as a love interest. The Minorcans are a people from the Balearic Islands, a group of islands in the Mediterranean Sea belonging to Spain. The Minorcans originally came to Florida as fishermen or crewmembers on board Spanish naval ships. The prejudiced attitudes of the 1950s are beginning to be seen in the novel, but Randy does not seem to be bound by them. He is indifferent to those who looked down their noses at Rita, a woman whose reputation is questioned by the town busybodies. He once ran for local political office, running on a platform of equality. He was soundly beaten in the race and was labeled a “traitor to his race.” People’s attitudes toward his love interests, and the drubbing he took at the polls, caused him to thumb his nose at the shortsighted, mindless people who would mind his business.

Pat Frank gives the reader a look at US-Soviet relations in the 1950s. The “weapons gap” actually existed and was a source of great concern among many in the U.S. at the time. At the time in which the novel is set, the U.S. had not yet closed the weapons gap with the Soviets. Pat Frank is knowledgeable of these matters and vividly paints a world that very nearly came to be.

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