Alas, Babylon

Alas, Babylon Summary and Analysis of Chapters 7 and 8


The loss of electricity hits Fort Repose hard, and upon realizing they are almost out of water, Randy, Helen, and the kids decide to pipe in the artesian water from the grove into their house, just like the Henrys. In an effort to preserve the large amounts of meat that Randy had bought that would now spoil without refrigeration, Randy heads into town to get some salt for Helen to use to preserve it.

Randy heads to the supermarket and sees that it's been completely picked clean; the storekeeper, Pete Hernandez, nearly shoots him, thinking he's a looter. He bargains with Pete, and manages to buy off two sacks of salt that he had been stashing in the back. The hardware store owner gives Randy a few mason jars for free. He heads to the medical building and finds it ransacked; Dan Gunn explains that a couple of addicts came in and took everything they had, shooting some of the people who stood in their way as well. Randy convinces Dan to come back to River Road and stay with them now that everything is gone.

They have a party that night to eat as much of the steak as they can before it goes bad, inviting all of the neighboring River Road residents. A broadcast comes on, declaring the entire state of Florida a contaminated zone that no one can enter or leave without being checked. Omaha and its surrounding areas are declared contaminated too, eliminating all hope for Mark. Helen and the kids are, naturally, devastated.

Terrible things continue to happen in the aftermath of the attack. A fire burns down the Riverside Inn entirely, killing most people in it. Gas begins to run dangerously low, so Randy decides to use the Henrys' old Model-A, which uses gas more efficiently, for all transportation. Lavinia McGovern dies after running out of insulin to treat her diabetes. Randy invites Lib and her father to live with him in the wake of her death, which Helen does not approve of initially; Dan says this it is because she is jealous and does not like the idea of sharing Randy, their source of protection. Florence experiences a shock when she realizes that her cat has turned savage and eaten one of her lovebirds.

Four months pass since The Day. Randy has lost all desire to drink whiskey; what he misses more than anything is coffee. Dan has developed a system of soliciting gallons of gas from patients in exchange for his service. The Henrys are having a problem with losing pigs and chickens, both valuable sources of food, either to prowlers or to wild animals. They decide to set up a watch at night over the pigs and chickens.

Alone out of everyone in Fort Repose, Alice has persisted in her work as a librarian because there are so many people looking for something to read to entertain themselves; she feels it makes her life worth living. Dan tells Randy that he has been treating three cases of radiation poisoning, and he cannot figure out where they got it.

Randy goes into town to try and trade a bottle of scotch for some coffee, at the bandstand where citizens have set up an informal trading post. He is unsuccessful, but a friend gives him a portion of honeycomb to take back home so that Peyton and Ben Franklin can have honey. Also while in town, he discovers that an Easter church service will still be held despite the circumstances.

Randy goes with Dan to visit the patients struck by radiation poisoning, one of whom is Pete Hernandez the supermarket shopkeeper. He lives with his sister, Rita, one of Randy's ex girlfriends who he ended on bad terms with. Rita has made an investment, collecting things like televisions, silver, and nice cars, because she insists the war won't last forever; once it ends, she says, these things will be valuable again.

Rita shows them a ring she traded for, and in an instant they realize where the radiation poisoning has come from: contaminated jewelry. Porky Logan had stolen jewelry from a contaminated area and traded it to people, and those people developed radiation poisoning. Rita has not been severely affected yet so she is safe, but it is too late for Pete.


As the characters continue to cope with the disaster, there is an overarching juxtaposition being presented between the disorder and chaos of the main Fort Repose town and the functional order that the River Road residents have established. While many Fort Repose residents have resorted to savagery—stealing, ravaging stores and the medical clinic, and even killing—the River Road residents have created a system of survival that benefits everyone, and things are, all in all, running smoothly.

At the core of their success is their seamless cooperation. Each person contributes to the best of his or her ability, and they all share the fruits of their labors among one another. They manage to pipe the artesian water to all the houses in the area, they share food and supplies, and after Dan's clinic is destroyed, he moves in with Randy and plays a vital role as the resident physician. Once again, regardless of race and social status, the Henrys are considered entirely equal to everyone else on River Road, and they contribute just as much to the group's success.

This lies in stark contrast to the survival-of-the-fittest, kill-or-be-killed method employed by many other Fort Repose citizens. Each new cooperative measure greatly enhances everyone's chance of survival, and this book relays the important message that when faced with a crisis, cooperation is key.

The pact that Randy made with himself to live by the same moral standards he had before The Day still remains intact. This is evident through his various acts of compassion, including hosting all of the neighbors for dinner, hooking up all the nearby houses to the artesian water supply, and, of course, inviting Dan and the McGoverns to live in his house after things start to fall apart. He is swiftly molding into a true hero, and his efforts are not in vain, for his kindness has helped him to maintain a favorable reputation in the eyes of the rest of Fort Repose's citizens, which is necessary in a time so reliant on trade and mutual need.

Pat Frank infuses symbols of growing savagery into the novel as time goes on, and one of the most prominent of these is Florence's docile house cat turning wild and eating her pet bird. Just like the cat, Mr. Percy, civilization is crumbling: people change and are driven to do things they never would have before The Day. Florence is horrified by the idea that humans will have to turn savage like her cat, but with the system of cooperation and continuing morality established on River Road, everyone is determined to prolong this as much as possible.

Until this point, Fort Repose seems to have been touched mostly by the secondhand effects of the war: lack of electricity, lack of communication, lack of food and other necessary supplies because they've been cut off from the rest of the world. In chapter 8, though, readers are reminded that there are very real first-hand threats to their survival, including radiation poisoning. Dan's radiation poisoning patients are a sharp reminder to readers that Fort Repose is not truly in its own, safe little bubble; at any time, the devastating effects of the bombs and their fallout could seep in while everyone remains blissfully unaware. It's an important message that even the things we cannot see, hear, or smell can kill us, particularly where a war is concerned.