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

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ALAS, BABYLON: FREE ONLINE STUDY GUIDE / NOTES

SYMBOLISM / IMAGERY / MOTIFS / SYMBOLS

Pat Frank’s novels, including Alas, Babylon, are very straightforward and largely lacking in symbolism. By and large, he lets his scene and dialog carry the themes of his works.

In one sense, the Carolina Parakeet can be said to be symbolic of the loss of “civilization as we know it.” The Carolina Parakeet was widespread throughout the American South but was driven to extinction by man. Randy spends his free time searching for the bird, hoping to find some trace of it and, hopefully, recover the species. In the same way, after "The Day", Randy spends his time searching for the remnants of American civilization, hoping to find traces of it and recover it. In the novel, Randy never finds a Carolina Parakeet; it is an open question whether he can find remnants of civilization and whether he can build upon them. Both the Carolina Parakeet and life before "The Day" are things that were but are no more, things that were once common but are now gone forever.

The trading for now-useless jewelry, televisions, and expensive furniture by some of the residents of Pistolville can be seen as symbolic of greed. These people, including Ria Hernandez, were always looked down upon as “poor white trash” and never had any of the luxuries enjoyed by the more well-to-do whites of Fort Repose. Now, however, they will “get their due” by trading needed goods (food, etc.) for the luxuries they never had. They are blind to the fact that those luxuries only meant something and had value before "The Day" but, now, they are useless. In fact, they are not only useless, but they are deadly. Their greed blinds them to the realities of life after "The Day".

We also see this symbol of greed in Bubba Offenhaus - he would not willingly use an expensive casket and a burial plot in the town cemetery to bury Porky Logan and his radioactive jewelry. He might yet get a better offer from someone else, someone more important.



KEY FACTS

Title:
Alas,
Babylon, by Pat Frank.


First Published:
1959, continuously in print to the present day.

Meaning of the Title:
See Quotation #1 in the quotation section.

Type of novel/genre:
Apocalyptic (post-disaster) novel. The novel is often described as science fiction, but it does not have the typical characteristics of science fiction (future setting, exotic locales, technology not available today, etc.).


Point of view:
The novel is written from an omniscient, third-person point of view. The narrator of the novel is aware of the actions, words, and thoughts of all the characters.

Setting:
The novel is set in a small town in central Florida.

Protagonist:
Randy Bragg

Antagonist:
The forces of decay and decline that follow a general breakdown of government and authority, and the lack of essential goods and services

Conflict:
The United States is at war with the Soviet Union, but that is only the backdrop for the novel. The real conflict is with the survivors as they try to cope with the loss of essential goods and services, and the general breakdown of authority.

Climax:
The primary climax of the novel involves the ambush of the highwaymen who attacked Dr. Gunn and who threaten to attack Fort Repose.

Major Themes:
(1) survival against the odds, and (2) personal redemption and recovery.

Minor Theme:
Power placed in weak hands leads to chaos and anarchy.

Mood:
Tense, but hopeful. The novel ends on a cautiously optimistic note.



VOCABULARY LIST / HISTORICAL REFERENCE

BX - base exchange; a store selling groceries, clothing, etc., usually at reduced prices, located on a military base to make shopping more convenient for military personnel stationed on the base. Only military personnel and their families are allowed shop at the BX.

B-47, B-58 - long-range U.S. strategic jet bombers of the period. The B-47 Strato-jet was the predecessor of the B-52 as the main heavy bomber of the Air Force. The B-58 “Hustler” was the predecessor of the B-1 as a supersonic penetration bomber.

C-in-C - commander-in-chief

DDT - a pesticide commonly used in the 1950s and 1960s, but now banned in the U.S.

DEW Line - Distant Early Warning Line. A line of radar systems in Alaska and the Canadian Arctic that watched for Soviet missiles coming over the North Pole (the shortest route to the U.S.). The DEW Line is no longer in operation, as satellites can monitor all global activity without the need for ground radar stations.

Fallout - radioactive dust and ash that filters back to the ground after a nuclear attack.

IC, ICBM - Intercontinental Ballistic Missile. These are long-range missiles capable of crossing oceans and /or polar regions once launched and striking targets thousands of miles away on other continents. Although commonplace today, they were new technology and just being perfected when the novel was written.

IR - Intermediate-range missiles. IR's are most often launched from submarines.

Minorcans - descendants of Spanish fishermen and explorers in Florida. Their ancestors came from Minorca, one of the Balearic Islands in the western Mediterranean belonging to Spain.

NATO - North Atlantic Treaty Organization. A military alliance of the United States, Canada, and several nations of western Europe. Its function was to prevent a military attack by the Soviet Union and its allies (the Warsaw Pact) and, should an attack occur, to defend the member nations against the agression.

O Club - Officer’s club

RAF - Royal Air Force; the British air force

Roentgen - a unit of measure of radiation

SAC - Strategic Air Command. SAC is a division of the U.S. Air Force created during "The Cold War" charged with maintaining and operating nuclear bombers and missiles. SAC headquarters was, and still is, located at Offutt Field outside Omaha, Nebraska, though their mission has changed greatly since the fall of the Soviet Union.

Shortwave Radio - radio transmissions using radio waves with a lower frequency than AM or FM radio. Shortwave radio travels much farther than standard AM or FM radio, and was commonly used to transmit radio programs to other countries. Some shortwave radio stations still on the air include Voice of America, Voice of Russia, the BBC, and Radio Canada.

Skunks - unidentified and presumably enemy aircraft, surface ships, or submarines.

Strontium 90, Carbon 14 - radioactive isotopes of strontium and carbon. Both would be common in radioactive fallout. Of the two, strontium 90 was by far the most dangerous as it has a longer half-life and is more radioactive.


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