Alas, Babylon

Alas, Babylon Summary and Analysis of Chapters 5 and 6


In the morning, the attack comes at last. A rumbling shakes Randy awake and he sees the glow of the bomb on the horizon, hitting south Florida. Randy, Helen, and the kids go outside to watch as fighter jets fly by. When a third bomb hits Tampa, the flash blinds Peyton. Randy decides to go into town to get Dan Gunn to come and take a look at her eyes.

On the way in, Randy spots a dead woman in the road, and after arguing with himself over who he should be trying to save, Randy stops to examine her car wreck and report it. Randy decides that even though in a time of war he should save himself and his family first, he still needs to listen to what his conscience tells him is morally right.

In town, there is panic. People are lined up at the gas station, and in the Riverside Inn, where Randy goes to find Dan, everyone is in a frenzy trying to contact their relatives and arrange transportation elsewhere. Dan is extremely busy working with a patient who had a heart attack after the bombing, but there are many others who need his help too. Dan promises to come out to do what he can for Peyton as soon as he finishes in the hotel. On the way home Randy passes convicts carrying guns, who clearly revolted against their prison guards as soon as the attack began.

Despite the happenings of that morning, Florence still heads into work at Western Union, because she believes that it's more important than ever that she be there to send peoples' messages. At work, she says, she is part of an exciting and important world, as opposed to when she is home. Once there, though, she receives a message telling her that only emergency messages can be transmitted at this time.

Edgar Quisenberry is particularly mad about this, because he cannot send important financial information. The financial structure of Fort Repose crumbles within a day, as people try to cash checks and withdraw money in a frenzy, and Edgar fears that the National Treasury in Washington has been completely obliterated. He refuses to honor any checks or bonds, and announces that the bank is closed temporarily. The law of scarcity comes into play, and soon, as people trade their money for vital supplies, there will be an excess of worthless money and no supplies left. This notion tortures Edgar, who can't imagine a world in which the dollar is worthless. Refusing to accept this, he puts a revolver to his head and pulls the trigger.

Those terrible 24 hours become known simply as "The Day." Randy carries his radio everywhere, listening to the news as he runs around trying to attend to all his duties. A news broadcaster comes on announcing that Josephine Vanbruuker-Brown is the new Acting Chief Executive of the United States; she was the secretary of Health, Education, and Welfare in the president's cabinet, and since Washington was obliterated and she was coincidentally not there, she is now leading the nation.

She confirms that many of the U.S.'s great cities have been destroyed, but the U.S. retaliated by destroying many of the Soviets' important missile bases. She declares a state of unlimited national emergency. Helen goes into town to get some more supplies, including ammunition, leaving Ben Franklin to watch over Peyton and Randy to get some rest.

Later, Dan shows up to look at Peyton. He treats her eyes with some medicine and announces that she should be able to see fine in a week or so. Dan tells Randy of the tragedies he saw in town that morning, including people who had drank themselves insensible and three suicides, one of which was Edgar Quisenberry. He delivered eight babies today and saw three cases of radiation poisoning. He says he thinks Randy will harden in the face of crisis, rather than melt in its heat like some people.

Randy and Helen go to visit Admiral Sam Hazzard, a retired military admiral who might know better than they do what Mark's status in Omaha might be. His primary hobby since his wife died has been listening to short-wave radio, and that combined with his existing military knowledge means he's the best person to consult for information in a crisis like this.

The admiral guesses that Mrs. Vanbruuker-Brown had been speaking from Denver, and insists that there's no way Omaha hadn't been targeted. Chances are that Mark is dead, though he could have survived in the Hole; they have no way of knowing for sure. While they're talking to the admiral, another strike hits Orlando at last, the source of Fort Repose's power supply, and the lights and electric in Fort Repose go out for good.


As the attack finally comes, civilization in Fort Repose breaks down immediately because of the lack of preparation that Pat Frank condemns. Supplies run short, and people find themselves without essential items. The bank collapses, and the dollar becomes worthless, driving Edgar to suicide. Communication into and out of the town has halted. In the wider United States, the government has collapsed, leaving a low-level secretary in power.

The encounter with the escaped, armed convicts is symbolic of the sudden collapse of society. Law enforcement has failed, and now that the criminals are the ones carrying the guns, it is clear that order is swiftly slipping away from Fort Repose. The lights going out at the very end of chapter 6 represents this failure as well; in that moment darkness has arrived, chaos rules, and the damage has passed the point of no return. In that moment, Fort Repose is rewound hundreds of years to a time when human society truly was survival of the fittest.

Randy Bragg, though, makes a conscious decision to fight this New World Order and continue to abide by the moral standards that had been in place before The Day. This decision says a lot about him, and it gives readers a set of parameters by which to judge his choices and actions throughout the course of his novel. When he pulls over to the side of the road to stop for the dead woman, Randy establishes his stance as a leader who will maintain composure and compassion in the face of terrible crisis.

It is also important to note the reactions of the other Fort Repose citizens whom readers have come to know over the first few chapters. Some collapse in the face of tragedy, while others rise to the occasion. Dan Gunn says it best with his memorable quote, "Some nations and some people met in the heat of crisis and come apart like fat in the pan. Others meet the challenge and harden."

In the immediate aftermath of the bombings, it seems like many Fort Repose citizens have "melted in the heat of crisis." Most have immense trouble dealing with the sudden shortage of resources and fall into a panic, as evidenced by the state of the gas station, supermarket, and Riverside Inn. Dan Gunn has had to deal with numerous coronaries, and some, like Edgar Quisenberry, have even committed suicide because they can't stand the thought of facing this new, terrible horror.

Most of the novel's principal characters seem to be handling the crisis to the best of their abilities. Obviously, Randy is stepping seamlessly into the role of leader. Helen immediately takes charge of the house, recognizing what supplies they need, caring for Peyton, and ensuring that Randy get the rest he needs. Though young, Ben Franklin has an extremely clear head on his shoulders; he uses his knowledge of radiation and atomic bombs to ensure that his family stays safe, accepts responsibility when Randy hands him a gun to keep, and watches over his sister when Randy and Helen are busy. Ben Franklin has clearly inherited his father's preparedness and cool sense of reason when faced with a crisis.

Dan Gunn has shown his resolve, too, by working tirelessly to deal with the countless medical emergencies in Fort Repose and displaying his commitment to his important work. Florence and Alice, too, are determined to continue their work despite the attack, Florence because she knows people will need to send messages and Alice because the library stocks important information that people will want to read. By examining the actions of the principal characters following the bombings, this novel relays important messages about an individual's response to a crisis and the importance of each person contributing to the best of his or her ability.