| Free Study Guide: Alas, Babylon by Pat Frank
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Throughout the novel, the twin themes of survival and personal redemption are shown in multiple ways. Pat Frank so skillfully intertwines them that it is sometimes difficult to separate the two.
Randy, his household, and his neighbors know that civilization must be rebuilt - there is much in American civilization is worth saving - but, to do that, they must first survive. The survival instinct can be found in the gopher soup, salads of local greenery and “weeds,” and in the improvisation of needed tools. Even the highwaymen show their need for survival, even if in an inappropriate way (murder and pillage).
The second theme, personal rediscovery and redemption, is seen in the characters as they develop and evolve. Randy changes from a playboy bachelor with a trust fund into a hardened leader. Dr. Gunn changes from a man who has lost his calling to a man with a mission. Alice, after years of disillusionment, finds her purpose as the guardian knowledge. Helen and Lib become strong protectors of the hearth and home.
One of the messages of the novel is that there are no winners in a nuclear war - thermonuclear war is simply another form of madness. A positive message in the novel is that society, not just individuals, has a survival instinct and it will try to survive. In Fahrenheit 451, Granger says that man is a cousin of the phoenix. We will die in a fire of our own making but we will also rise again from our own ashes, ready to begin again. In Alas, Babylon, we see American society consumed by its own fire but attempting to rise again from the ashes. We can only speculate how well they will succeed.
There are three real (non-fictional) nearby air force bases mentioned in the novel:
McCoy Air Force Base
- McCoy AFB was located outside of Orlando. In the 1950s it was
a training location for pilots of B-47 and B-52 bombers. The base was
closed in 1974 and most of the land was given to the city of Orlando to
be used as the Orlando International Airport. In the novel, Randy meets
Mark at McCoy, and the base takes a direct hit by a Soviet nuclear weapon.
Patrick Air Force Base - Patrick AFB is located in Brevard County,
Florida, and is still in operation. Most of the land and functions of
the base were joined with the U.S. Space Center to form the Kennedy Space
Center at Cape Canaveral. In the novel, Patrick AFB held little interest
for the Soviets and did not take a nuclear strike. At the end of the novel,
Paul Hart plans to set up the Florida Decontamination Command at Patrick
McDill Air Force Base - McDill AFB is located on the end of
a peninsula in Tampa, Florida. It is still in operation. In the novel,
it took a direct nuclear strike by the Soviets resulting in Peyton’s temporary
flash burn and blindness.
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. 12 May 2008