Study Guide

Helen Bragg in Alas, Babylon

By Pat Frank

Helen Bragg

Helen Bragg is defined by motherhood. Part of this might be due to a slightly un-woke perspective on gender from author Pat Frank. Still, it makes some sense. After all, what else can a parent do when the apocalypse other than protect their children?

Bechdel Test Dropout

Mark describes Helen as "all woman" (2.119).

No, he doesn't mean that in the same way an overeager guy might on a girl's Instagram photo. Instead, he means it to say that she's a natural caregiver, someone who is strong, loyal, and non-stop dedicated to the people around her. Putting aside the gendered assumptions of that statement, it's certainly an accurate description of Helen's character.

That being said, associating womanhood with being a caregiver is pretty messed up. There's nothing wrong with being a loving mother and wife, of course, but do all woman have to do that? No way. In instances like these, we have to think about the time when the book was written: 1959. The '50s weren't exactly a hot time for women's rights, so that might explain why something like this would appear in Alas, Babylon.

Caregiving for Fun and Profit

However you feel about that element of Helen's character, her caregiving nature is what unites her with her new hubbie, Dan Gunn. She becomes his medical assistant after The Day, which is a great outlet for her natural drive to help people. She even single handedly saves Dan when he needs medical attention himself.

The one thing that holds her back from diving headfirst into a relationship with Dan is her fear that Mark is still alive somewhere out there. It's the ambiguity that eats at her. At one point, she even tries to make out with Randy, shouting that he's actually Mark. Awkward.

Lib attributes this outburst to Helen's trauma from losing the man she loves. Check out her explanation:

"She is a person who requires love and is used to it. For many years a man has been the greater part of her life. So she has this conflict—intense loyalty to her husband and yet need of a man to receive her abundance of love and affection" (9.86)

As someone who gains strength from helping other people, Helen is caught between a rock and a hard place. She needs to care for people, but she also needs to be loyal to her husband. It's rough.

New Hubbie City

Luckily, the arrival of a military helicopter brings news that Mark is definitely, totally, one-hundred-percent dead. How deus ex machina of you, Pat Frank. Improbable inconveniences aside, this news finally allows Helen to rebuild a new life for herself in Fort Repose, even if it's not the one she expected.

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