Alas, Babylon

Alas, Babylon Essay Questions

  1. 1

    How does Randy's character evolve over the course of the novel?

    At the beginning of the novel, Randy is presented without much purpose in his life; he lives alone, he drinks a lot, he has no real job, and he recently lost a run for political office. When Mark trusts him with knowledge of the impending attack and places his family in his care, though, Randy begins his transformation. Over the course of the novel, Randy Bragg becomes a true leader not only for his family or his neighbors, but for the entirety of Fort Repose. As a former Reserve Officer, he adopts responsibility for the safety of the entire town, sure that it is the right thing to do. Most importantly, Randy retains his morals and his conscience despite the ongoing war, even after acknowledging that it would be acceptable to play by different rules. By the end of the novel, Randy is a hero.

  2. 2

    How are women and minorities portrayed in Alas, Babylon?

    This novel acknowledges that during wartime, boundaries between genders and races all but dissolve. In order to survive, all must cooperate, although it may be difficult to blur lines that have been established for decades. The two principal women in this novel, Helen and Lib, contribute just as much to the survival of the River Road residents as everyone else. Helen is endlessly resourceful and, aside from a small episode, maintains her emotional stability though she has no idea whether her husband is dead or alive. Lib is intelligent and thoughtful, observing things about the people around her that no one else notices. And the entire Henry family, though they are black, puts in an immense effort to help their neighbors, sharing their water, their livestock, and their hard work with all who need it.

  3. 3

    Discuss the statements that Alas, Babylon makes about war and its effects.

    As a military man himself, Pat Frank has experienced war first-hand, and through Alas, Babylon he relays his feelings about war and the way it tears apart society. Most importantly, war affects everyone, not merely the soldiers fighting it. Very little of the novel focuses on the actual U.S.-Soviet conflict; instead, it features normal, innocent civilians in Fort Repose trying to survive in the wasteland created by the bombs. Frank also believes that wars like this solve nothing, and because of the countless losses incurred by both side, nobody truly wins. On the very last page of the book, Paul Hart informs the River Road residents that the U.S. won the war, but adds the important phrase, "not that it matters." Victory is much less powerful when the victorious country is left in shambles.

  4. 4

    Why is this story's setting in Fort Repose, Florida so important?

    For a number of reasons, Fort Repose was perfectly chosen as the setting of Alas, Babylon. For one, because of Florida's tropical climate, the residents of the town could more realistically survive a nuclear bombing in the middle of winter. Had Fort Repose been a town up north, this likely would have been a very different story centered on trying to survive a bitterly cold winter without heat. It is also very important that Fort Repose is a small town; in a small town in which everyone knows everyone else, cooperation is much more feasible, and Pat Frank's main message is that cooperation is extremely necessary in any crisis. Randy is able to step up as a leader in a small town; had it been larger, he likely would have gotten lost in the mix and his role would not be as powerful.

  5. 5

    What are the different types of conflicts in this novel?

    The main conflict is, of course, the one that sets the premise for the entire novel: the Cold War, or the conflict between communism and democracy, the Soviet Union and the United States. In addition to that, though, there are a number of smaller-scale conflicts that are no less important. The characters struggle against society and nature to survive without many vital amenities. There are interpersonal conflicts too, such as the fight between the highwaymen and the River Road residents. Then there are internal conflicts, such as Randy's struggle to maintain his pre-Day code of morals in the face of disaster, even though it would be easier and more prudent to abandon his conscience and do everything he could to protect his family.

  6. 6

    What does this novel say about modern society's over-reliance on technology?

    The citizens of Fort Repose do not realize how severely a lack of resources and technology will affect them until it happens: Orlando is bombed, their power supply is destroyed, and they are left completely in the dark. Pat Frank wants to make a point that we have become so reliant on modern amenities that we do not know how to cope without them. He does emphasize, though, that we do not need them. The River Road residents are resourceful, and without technology they improvise; Dann Gunn is able to operate using hypnosis as anesthesia and crude household materials as tools, illustrating the truth that modern technology is simply a crutch, and humans are capable of surviving—and thriving—without it.

  7. 7

    What are some ways Fort Repose's experiences in wake of The Day reflect a "survival of the fittest" mentality?

    The events in this novel all illustrate a shift in the order in society following wartime. Natural selection suddenly becomes much more than a theoretical evolutionary process, as people who cannot handle the stress and consequences of a changed world suffer heart attacks, fall ill, and ultimately die. Lavinia McGovern had diabetes, and before The Day, society would have focused on caring for her like it cares for all its weak. After The Day, though, these rules suddenly change, and her illness weakens her to the point of death. Florence Wechek's animals represent this same truth on a smaller scale; Sir Percy the cat eats Anthony the bird because he is stronger, and in order to survive during a time like this he must take advantage of his strength. In many ways, humans are forced to become these wild animals in their fight for survival.

  8. 8

    How do the children, Peyton and Ben Franklin, evolve over the course of the novel?

    Since Peyton and Ben Franklin Bragg have grown up under the shadow of war, they have seen and heard a lot of thing most children should not even before The Day. Despite this existing maturity, though, both children do grow up in immense ways in the months following the attack. In his father's absence, Ben Franklin becomes the man of the family, and Randy trusts him to do a man's work. He gives Ben a gun and allows him and Caleb to stand guard over the Henrys' pigs and chickens, protecting them from an unknown invader. It takes a little longer before Peyton's true character begins to show, but her natural stubbornness leads to her successful contributions at the end of the book, both with fishing and accessing the items in the attic. The children contribute significantly to the survival of the group, though they are forced to grow up a lot faster than they should.

  9. 9

    How is the ending of the novel, in which Randy and his friends choose to stay in Fort Repose, significant?

    Had the River Road residents been presented with this choice immediately after The Day, they undoubtedly would have chosen to leave Fort Repose in favor of greater safety and security. After having worked so hard to rebuild the town, though, and forge their own relationships alongside this, it would almost be a betrayal for them to leave. This is a fitting ending for a novel exploring the immense personal growth that happens in the wake of a tragedy; these people have changed so much along with their town since The Day, so they have chosen to keep soldiering on with it into the uncertain future.

  10. 10

    Think about what would happen if this novel were set in the 21st century. How would the effects of a large-scale nuclear attack today be different from those in the 1950s?

    In the 21st century, global citizens are even more reliant on technology than in Alas, Babylon's time period, so likely the effects of being entirely cut off from power and communication the way the Fort Repose was would be even more devastating. In many ways, survival would be even harder; however, the main message of preparedness and cooperation in a crisis would still stand. Once boundaries are dissolved enough to create community trust and cooperation, people stand a better chance at surviving a tragedy—this was true during the Cold War, and it is still true today.