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

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ALAS, BABYLON: BOOK REPORT / ONLINE BOOK REVIEW

CHAPTER 12

Summary

It is now early May, about five months after "The Day". A tube in Sam Hazzard’s shortwave radio goes out and, with it, any knowledge of the outside world. In the past, Sam had to order replacement parts for the radio directly from the factory in New Jersey; now, however, there is no longer a New Jersey. Randy offers an incredible trade - a pig and two chickens - for a replacement tube but no one in Fort Repose has one. But, since there is no longer any gasoline, there is no way to recharge the batteries. Even if they could find a replacement tube, Sam’s radio would soon go silent from lack of power.

June comes around. Preacher Henry’s corn crop ripens; Bill and Two-Tone make their first batch of corn whiskey. Although it is still very raw, it will make good trade goods. Given a little aging, it will be even more valuable. Dr. Gunn will not use it for anesthesia, but he finds other medical uses for it.

In July, Alice finds some books on hypnotism in the library and brings them home. Her thought is that the doctor can learn hypnotism and use it as a form of anesthesia. After all, even in the 1950s, dentists had occasionally used hypnotism instead of novocaine. Dan succeeds in hypnotizing the children but he has no luck with Randy or Sam. This skill comes to use only a week later when Ben develops appendicitis. Dan hypnotizes Ben and removes Ben’s inflamed appendix. Afterward, Randy jokingly refers to Dan as “the witch doctor.”

So far, the summer has been good. But, August rolls around and things get bad. The fish stop biting, the armadillos destroy Preacher Henry’s yam crop, and they run out of salt. No one has salt to trade, and Randy is surprised to find out how essential it was to just about everything, including their health. Randy and Dan are talking about the lack of fish when Randy suddenly remembers his ancestor’s diary. While Dan was recuperating from his assault, Helen read to Dan from the diary. Randy remembers that his ancestor also faced a lack of salt and found a nearby source of it. Randy goes to the diary, finds the location of the salt, also discovering that there was an abundance of crabs in the salt pool. Randy and Sam put together a fleet of sailboats to go upriver for the salt.


While they are gone, Ben and Caleb take Randy’s dog and go on an armadillo hunt. They boys succeed in taking five armadillos and are credited with discovering a new food source. Peyton, however, is upset and jealous, and she sets her mind to being a heroine. She talks to Preacher Henry about the fish not biting, and he gives her some good advice. But, she needs bait that will attract the large bass. The only bait around that would entice a bass to bite in the sweltering August heat was Florence’s goldfish.

When the men return home laden with crabs and salt, he finds that the women are all sitting in the living room crying and Peyton is upstairs; she is in trouble for taking a boat out without permission. Randy also finds out that Florence is upset that her goldfish is missing. Not knowing how to handle this situation, Randy goes into the kitchen to clean the fish. When he opens the largest bass, he finds a tattered goldfish in the fish‘s stomach.

Soon, the heat breaks and the fish start biting again. In September, school begins for the Bragg and Henry children. There being no functioning school, Lib and Helen take on the task of educating the children. Randy is a little surprised that Ben and Peyton have no qualms about sitting in class next to Caleb; Randy then remembers that, in most of America, black and white children had attended the same schools for some time without any problems.

In November, Peyton goes exploring in the attic and finds an old hand-cranked record player and a collection of old records. She also finds a foot-powered sewing machine and a black leather case with two straight razors. Peyton, at last, becomes a heroine.

Notes

Chapter 12 covers the summer and autumn after "The Day". The summer starts out well enough, but turns deadly.

The twin problems of salt and fish plague Randy and Dan. Randy is more concerned about the lack of fish. Fish, after all, provided the bulk of the protein in their diets. Dan, however, is more concerned about the lack of salt - you either have it or you do not, and it is not a renewable resource like fish.

Randolph Peyton, Randy’s ancestor, established the original fort in the 1830s that would later become the town of Fort Repose. In August 1839, Lt. Peyton faced a similar situation of extreme heat and a lack of salt. An Indian guide told him about a pool several miles upstream from the fort where crabs could be found, and what appeared to be sand on the banks was actually salt. Randy and Sam study the diary and local maps, and locate what Lt. Peyton referred to as “Blue Crab Run.” Not much had changed since the 1830s as there were still salt and crabs in abundance.

Sam had been working for some time on building a fleet of sailing boats. Now that gasoline was no longer available, river traffic had to rely on wind and sail again. Sam had to study sail and tackle in the Naval Academy, and he still remembered enough of it to convert some of the local boats to sailing vessels.

Armadillos had been accidentally introduced into Florida long before and they had been considered a nuisance. Their only natural enemies seemed to be car tires. They boys found some books in the library about armadillos and learned that armadillo meat had long been a delicacy in their native Central America.

Soon enough, the dog days of summer are over and life returns to what passes as normal. In September, school started and Randy is somewhat surprised to find that Ben and Peyton have no qualms about attending school with black children. The Bragg children were children of the military, and the military had been racially integrated by order of President Truman years before. In other parts of the country, racial segregation was the exception rather than the rule, and integrated classrooms were the norm. In the South, however, Jim Crow laws were still on the books and segregation was not only the norm, it was the law.

Without realizing it, Randy is learning that racism and segregation are an expensive luxury that only wealthy, prosperous societies can afford. In the post-war Florida of the novel, what is left of society has neither the prosperity nor the wealth to afford segregation and racism - all people of all races are needed to rebuild society. By the time they can rebuild the society, racism and segregation would be forgotten during the long years of blacks and whites working and living together, both races in the same boat.


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