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

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Alas, Babylon can be divided into three parts:
(1) events before "The Day"
(2) "The Day" itself
(3) events after "The Day".

It is important to note that Pat Frank did not divide the novel into sections, but the plot can be divided into these sections. The bulk of the novel concerns events after "The Day".

Part I: Before "The Day"

This part of the novel is rather short. The primary focus of this part is to introduce us to most of the key characters and to inform us of the events that culminate in the nuclear attack on the U.S. We already know, or at least suspect, that the attack will come but we do not know how or why. In this section, we learn first of Mark’s “Alas, Babylon” message, then we learn of Soviet actions that are raising political and military tensions with the U.S. Pewee Cobb tries to prove he is a big man, and defies orders and launches the missile that sparks the war. Sensing that something is coming, Mark Bragg sends his family from Omaha to the relative safety of Fort Repose.

At this point, the stage is set for the attack and the key players are on location. The only thing that is needed is the next action - the attack on the U.S.

Part II: "The Day"

The Soviets have been silent about Ensign Cobb’s bad judgement. Mark knows that this is a bad sign. His commanding general refers to those hours between dawn in Moscow and dawn on the U.S. eastern coast as “the witching hour” - the most dangerous time. Randy has just returned home from Orlando to pick up Helen and the children.

About dawn, the attack finally comes. This part of the novel concerns the actions taken, and the thoughts, hopes, and fears of the key players on that Sunday. In some ways, the attack is a relief - the waiting is finally over. In other ways, the attack is a wake-up call to survival and personal rediscovery and redemption.

As one would expect, the events of this day are analogous to stirring an anthill with a stick - everyone is scurrying around madly, trying to find out what is happening and what needs to be done. Helen discovers that there are many important items on her “inventory of necessities” that are needed. This sets into motion one of the key conflicts in the novel: the lack, or shortage, of many items needed just to survive. Dr. Gunn finds that most people who will eventually have a fatal heart attack just had one, that he is needed in too many places at the same time, and he does not have the tools or the help needed to deal with the crisis. The events at the hotel show that some people will not deal with reality even when it literally explodes in their faces.

Part III: After "The Day"

The bulk of the novel concerns events after that ill-fated Sunday morning. This part of the novel contains the second climax - the attacks of the highwaymen - and the events that lead up to it.

Randy begins moving many of the key players into unused rooms in his house. Others are linked together, figuratively and literally, to the Bragg house by extending the artesian well system to their houses. In this way, Randy forms a tight-knit community linked together by the water pipes. The remainder of the novel, up to the attack on the highwaymen, is concerned with how Randy and his neighbors and, to an extent, the residents of Fort Repose and Pistolville, deal with the tasks of survival. This section is also where we see one of the themes develop: people finding their purpose in life again. Randy develops into a leader, Helen into a formidable keeper of the home and hearth, Dan rediscovers his calling to heal, and even the children find ways to contribute to everyone’s survival.

The second climax, the incident with the highwaymen, shows how fragile the new community is in the absence of civil authority. The readers are reminded of the theme of The Lord of the Flies: civilization is a fragile thing and it is little more than a thin veneer that covers our basic savagery. It does not take a nuclear attack for this type of civil disorder to occur - the newspapers and evening news are full of stories where riots or looting occur in the aftermath of a natural disaster or a man-made event. One of the questions the novel raises is how people will deal with lawlessness in the aftermath of a disaster. Randy solves this problem with the attack on the highwaymen. His hope is that, by capturing and publicly hanging them, his actions will be a deterrent to future lawlessness. The novel ends before we know for sure.

In The Lord of the Flies, the boys (and civilization) are rescued in the end. In Alas, Babylon, however, Paul Hart comes and offers them a form of rescue (relocation in a clear area) but Randy and his group decline the offer. In Alas, Babylon, there is no white knight - Randy, his neighbors, and his town will have to rescue themselves. We are left to wonder how well they succeed.

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