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

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ALAS, BABYLON: FREE ONLINE STUDY GUIDE / LITERARY CRITICISM

OVERALL ANALYSIS

CHARACTER ANALYSIS

Randy Bragg

Randy Bragg is the protagonist and central character of the novel. As the novel progresses, he gradually changes from a playboy bachelor with a trust fund into a hardened leader. By the end of the novel, he has changed completely.

Randy has complete trust in his brother’s analysis of the geopolitical situation. Mark is, after all, a full colonel in the military with access to top-secret military intelligence. Mark had warned Randy some time before that the world was racing toward war. Should events warrant it, Mark would warn Randy with their old phrase, “Alas, Babylon.” When the message arrives, Randy instantly springs into action and prepares for war.

Before "The Day", Florence Wechek thinks Randy is a pervert, a Peeping Tom. She has seen him on many occasions looking through his binoculars toward her house. Actually, he was looking for the supposedly extinct Carolina parakeet. The bird he thinks is the parakeet is actually Florence’s escaped lovebird. Randy is not, however, a pervert or a Peeping Tom. Defying popular opinion, he had previously dated a local Hispanic woman. When the novel opens, he has ended his relationship with Rita Hernandez and turned his sights toward Lib McGovern.

Randy starts moving some of his friends and neighbors into the unused rooms of his house. By this time, Mark’s wife and children are living in the house as well. Gradually he begins taking on the job of leadership, beginning with his household, then extending to his neighbors, and, finally, assuming command of Fort Repose. He never wanted to be a leader, but he takes on the job because those who had power had abdicated it or abused it. As Randy assumes more authority, he is careful not to make the same mistakes as those who previously held power.

A major theme of the novel is survival. Randy knows that civilization had to be rebuilt, although it will not be easy, cut off as they were from needed goods and services deep inside a Contaminated Zone. Necessity being the mother of invention, he and the other characters find new food sources and alternative ways to get things done.

Randy, unlike Kitty Offenhaus, is not a racist. He had served in the military with blacks and had learned to value and respect them. However, in the segregated South, it was difficult to escape an ambivalent attitude toward blacks. As the novel progresses, Randy’s interaction with blacks increases, especially with the Henry’s. With this interaction comes acceptance and value, and Malachi’s death is a genuine shock to him.

Helen Bragg

Helen is Randy’s sister-in-law, and she is a typical military wife, accustomed to being alone and running the household during Mark’s extended absences. She is competent under pressure, to the point of being her best when under fire.

Helen is a fast learner. She learns some basic medical skills from Dr. Gunn and puts her knowledge and cool-under-pressure nature to work after the assault on the doctor. She even learns hypnosis in order to help Dr. Gunn in future emergencies.

Still, Helen is a woman and needs a man in her life to feel complete. The first sign Randy has of this is during her momentary emotional breakdown when she thinks Randy is Mark. Lib also sees this and makes it a special project to be the matchmaker, getting Helen and the doctor together. By the end of the novel, she and the doctor are close enough to discuss marriage. Helen, however, will not marry Dr. Gunn until she is certain that Mark is dead.

As the novel progresses, Helen has more and more opportunities to be cool and competent under pressure. This gradually changes her and she, like Randy, becomes a leader and a powerful force in the Bragg house.

Lib McGovern

Like many other characters in the novel, Lib starts out soft and ends up tough. She is the pampered daughter of a rich industrialist and is Randy’s latest (and final) love interest.

Lib’s parents do not care for Randy, forcing her to visit him quietly. She, unlike Rita Hernandez, genuinely cares for Randy. After Randy receives Mark’s message but before he tells her about the coming war, she visits Randy to convince him that he is wasting his talents and is vegetating living alone with no job in a small town. Throughout the novel, her care and concern for him is evident. Eventually, after her mother dies, her father changes his opinion of Randy - this enables Lib to be more open in her affection for Randy.


Randy and Lib are married on Easter Sunday. There is no honeymoon as Randy immediately sets off on his assault on the highwaymen.

When Randy moves Lib into his house, there is some friction between her and Helen. This concerns Randy, but Dr. Gunn tells Randy that it is normal and inevitable - Helen sees Randy as her protection, and Lib is a competitor for Randy’s efforts. Dan tells him that the two women will eventually resolve their differences and become friends. As with most of Dan’s predictions, this one also comes to pass. We cannot point to a particular time in the novel when the change from competitors to friends occurs but, midway through the novel, Helen and Lib are friends, one usually not far from the other.

Dr. Dan Gunn

Dan Gunn is the town doctor for Fort Repose, his partner being killed in the raid by the drug addicts on the clinic. He is, at heart, an idealist who wanted to spend his career treating the sick in faraway lands. He was motivated by a desire to heal, not by the money or prestige that a medical career would offer him. However, his wife, an alcoholic gambler and social gadfly, divorced him since she wanted the money and prestige that would come from being the wife of a doctor. In the divorce, Dan was placed under a crippling financial burden - the more he made, the more he paid in alimony. He and Randy once figured that, if Dan made $50,000 per year (a very large income in the 1950s), he would have to file for bankruptcy as his alimony payments would exceed his income. Due to the financial burdens, he lives in a small town delivering babies, treating minor injuries and diseases, and visiting the hypochondriacs.

As a result of the nuclear attack, Dan is freed from the financial burdens, although he cannot now go to foreign lands to fight strange diseases. Instead, he takes on the task of providing needed medical care to Fort Repose in an America that is now a third-world country - he can pursue his dreams now without leaving home. Dan steps into this role willingly and with gusto. At first, he, like everyone else, is overwhelmed by the magnitude of the task before him, but he quickly adapts.

Dan foresees an epidemic at the hotel, populated by people totally blind to the realities of their changed lives. There is no running water, toilets do not work, garbage is left to rot, and the place has become a squalid cesspool. The hotel is ripe for any number of diseases. Dan tries to warn the residents, but they remain convinced that water and electricity will be back the next day and that life will soon return to normal. Once the epidemic begins, Dan will be powerless to stop it, having no drugs to treat it. However, before disease can set in, fire breaks out and the hotel burns to the ground. The few survivors move into the Fort Repose school where, in short order, conditions become even worse than in the hotel. Before "The Day", Dan lived in the hotel, but Randy moves him into his house just after the nuclear attack.

We do not know how long Randy and Dan have known each other, but it is apparent from the novel that it has been a long time. Dan and Randy are often seen together, discussing events or problems, or just “hanging out.” Randy is genuinely concerned for Dan when the highwaymen delay Dan longer than normal. It is tempting to say that Randy’s concern for Dan is simply due to his understanding that Dan is their only doctor, but even a cursory reading of the novel shows otherwise.

Dan has his human side as well as his altruistic side. When his clinic is destroyed, Randy wants to pursue and punish the addicts. Dan stops him, saying that they have in store for them a punishment worse than anything Randy could impose - they will suffer terribly from withdrawal, and they will die. Dan actually seems to be enjoying the prospect. Later, after the assault on him, he has no objection to Randy’s plan to capture and hang the highwaymen.

His other human side is one of concern and, later, love. He is concerned about the well-being of those living in Randy’s house and the nearby neighbors, as well as for those in Fort Repose and even Pistolville. His concern is not fettered by the social and racial attitudes of the times - everyone, regardless of color or class, is just another person needing medical help. Although we do not really see it develop, he falls in love with Helen and eventually proposes to her. At first, she is reluctant to accept but, after Paul Hart tells her of the total destruction of Omaha, her reluctance eases. The novel ends before we see Dan and Helen marry, but we can be certain that they do.

Dan’s personality change in the novel is not like the changes experienced by many of the other characters. Instead of becoming a tough, practical leader, Dan recovers his sense of mission. He wanted to be a healer, and now he has his chance. He uses his medical knowledge to improvise medical instruments and treatments, and learns to do the best with what he has and with what he can find.

Alice Cooksey

Alice is the town’s librarian. Before "The Day", she has become disillusioned with her career as her budgets are frozen while her costs skyrocket, and by watching her patrons abandon the library for movies, television, and other entertainments.

Alice is aware of current events. When she hears of the “Alas, Babylon” phrase in Randy’s telegram, she looks up the phrase and instantly recognizes its significance. As a result, she seems better prepared intellectually and emotionally for the nuclear attack.

After "The Day", competing entertainments are gone and people begin returning to the library in numbers she has never seen before. They come not only for entertainment but also to read materials that may help them survive the days ahead. As a result, she, like Dan, recovers her sense of purpose and mission, rising to the challenge.

Alice is a forward-thinker. In her confrontation with Kitty Offenhaus, we see her, like the doctor, unfettered by social and racial prejudices. In that scene, we also see that Alice can be a formidable woman when she needs to be.

In her role of librarian, Alice has ample opportunity to read the books in the library. She hopes to find something that will help them survive better. In her research, she finds books on native plants - this provides the wild greens salad the Bragg house has for dinner the night of the assault on Dan. She also finds the books on hypnotism that enables the doctor to perform an appendectomy on Ben without anesthesia.

Alice is a quiet woman throughout the novel. She is not the strong but emotional housewife like Helen and Lib, and she is not a fussy spinster like Florence. We do not see much of her as most of the women’s scenes go to Helen and Lib. But we do see some character development as Alice finds her sense of fulfillment after "The Day".

Bill McGovern

Bill McGovern is a retired industrialist. Actually, he was forced into an early retirement for unspecified reasons. Rather than face the ignominy of being fired, he took the offer of retirement. He then moved to Central Florida, built a house with the most modern amenities, and became bored with life.

Bill and Lavinia did not care much for Randy. Randy disagreed with Bill from time to time on social, political, and economic matters. Bill was offended by Randy’s disagreements - as president of a manufacturing company, not many had the audacity to disagree with him, and he was used to getting his way. As far as Bill was concerned, Randy was an arrogant loafer, an example of a good family gone to seed, and full of ridiculous ideas. After Lavinia dies, Bill’s attitude toward Randy begins to change. Randy moves Bill into his house and, in very short order, the two men are fast friends. This change in attitude seems to begin when Randy helps bury Lavinia. Bill is complaining that he might as well be the next to die, as he has nothing to contribute. Randy gives Bill a dressing-down and gets Bill to remember that he was not always a business tycoon - he worked his way up from the bottom and he has mechanical skills, however rusty they may be. Bill sees that he does, after all, have something to contribute and becomes, with Malachi Henry, the neighborhood mechanic. After Malachi’s death, Bill has a vital role to play. As a result, Bill rediscovers life and recovers his sense of purpose.


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