Free Study Guide: Alas, Babylon by Pat Frank - Free BookNotes|
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ALAS, BABYLON: FREE ONLINE STUDY GUIDE / LITERARY CRITICISM
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.
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 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 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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