Study Guide

Bill McGovern in Alas, Babylon

By Pat Frank

Bill McGovern

Bill McGovern goes from being a bored, depressed retiree to having a pep in his step like he hasn't in decades. And all it takes is the nuclear apocalypse. A bit inconvenient, sure, but you can't argue with the results.

A Case of the Blues

Before The Day, Bill is in rough shape. Here's Dan Gunn's official prognosis:

But [Bill] is dying faster than he should. The better a man is at business, the worse in retirement. [...] He wishes himself dead, and he dies. (3.121)

Bill used to be a corporate president in a major tool company, but since retirement has found nowhere to channel his energy. He's stuck in a major rut. We can also see this in his disbelief of Randy's warnings about the nuclear war. He's too stuck in his own head to admit the possibility of such a radical event occurring.

Discovering the Cure

At first, Bill adapts terribly. Having done few preparations before the bombs started falling, he's lost and confused at what to do next. But the real kicker is the death of his wife, Lavinia, who can no longer get her daily dose of insulin now that refrigeration is a thing of the past.

Not only is this tragic on its face, but it also highlights Bill's fear that he can't provide for his family. Here's him breaking down to Randy:

"I'm not much of a success, am I, in time of crisis? [...] I wish I had enough guts to swim out into the channel and sink." (7.212)

Presented with a unique case, Doctor Randy Bragg MD prescribes an innovative cure: a job. Knowing that Bill spent his career in tools, he assigns him to be Malachai's assistant mechanic. Might seem like a demotion, but it's exactly what Bill needs. Not only does it give him a reason to wake up every day, but it makes him indispensable to the people around him—a feeling he's been missing since his retirement.

So, there you go. Feeling blue? Nothing like nuclear annihilation to turn the spirits around.

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