A powerful theme of war resonates throughout the entirety of Alas, Babylon; it takes place during the Cold War, a time in which nuclear threat from the Soviet Union shook up the entire United States. This novel illustrates how brutally war can alter the lives of average citizens—not only adults, but children too, as evidenced by Peyton and Ben Franklin who lost their father as a result of the attack. Alas, Babylon reminds readers that war affects everyone, not simply those doing the fighting. At the same time, Frank illustrates the foolishness of war in general by displaying the total destruction that would result if the Cold War actually erupted.
Though Alas, Babylon tells the story of war, it primarily focuses on the resilience in the face of war shown by the residents of River Road after The Day. Though it certainly would be easy to give up and stop their fight to survive, since often things go from bad to worse, Randy and all the others continue to persevere and find new and innovative ways to survive until they are rescued. This resilience is contrasted with people like Edgar Quisenberry, who committed suicide because he had given up and resigned himself to failure.
Alas, Babylon is often described as a tale of hope. First, Randy, his family, and his friends are hopeful that they will survive the impending Soviet nuclear attack. Next, they are hopeful that they will be able to survive until someone comes to rescue them. This hope is particularly powerful because they never know for sure that they will be rescued; they simply trudge on, day after day, hoping that their future will be promising. In the end, their hope is rewarded with a rescue, confirming that though it is difficult to keep up hope in certain situations, hope will always be rewarding.
Community and Interdependence
This novel very much reinforces the idea that cooperation is essential to survival. After The Day, each character used his or her skills and abilities to aid the survival of the group; Dan Gunn used his medical background, Randy his leadership, Helen kept the house running smoothly, and even the children contributed. Without the effort of each and every one of them, they likely would not have lived to see their rescue; for this reason, working together as a community in the face of crisis is absolutely vital.
Much like cooperation, the importance of friendship is emphasized. A good friend, Randy offers space in his home to others after the crisis, and even stronger bonds of friendship are formed between the characters as time goes on and they all contribute to each other's survival. Their friendship is evidenced by the true heartbreak each of them feels when Doc Gunn is hurt and Malachai is killed. At every step of the way they support each other, just as friends are meant to do.
Dependence on Technology
Frank illustrates society's dependence on technology by doing something very simple: taking it all away. Modern people have grown so reliant on technology such as cars, appliances, and communication devices such as phones and radios that they do not know how to cope when all of this is lost. Though the characters are resourceful and do come up with ways to survive in its absence, they are initially crippled terribly by the loss of electricity after The Day. Frank warns readers that they have become so dependent on these things that they are in turn helpless without them.
The Unexpected Hero
At the beginning of the novel, Randy Bragg does not seem to have very much going for him; he's lost an election to public office, has no real job, and drinks too frequently. Throughout the novel, he becomes an unexpected hero through his leadership and resourcefulness while dealing with the crisis of nuclear war. By the end, Randy has transformed into a confident, capable, and entirely different character from the one he was at the beginning, showing readers that true heroes can arise in the unlikeliest of places.
Alas, Babylon Questions and Answers
The Question and Answer section for Alas, Babylon is a great
resource to ask questions, find answers, and discuss the novel.
Alice was worried about the cryptic message Randy Bragg had received from his brother. Initially, she refused Florence's offer to stay with her.... and then she changed her mind. Company and Fort Repose sounded pretty good to her.
Mark talked to Randy about the type of leadership that would be necessary on order for the United States to move forward.... men who would be less conservative and more proactive. After a lot of thought.... Randy believed he could be one of those...