Study Guide

Alas, Babylon Community

By Pat Frank

Community

Chapter 3

As they unloaded, Randy considered the Henrys. They were a special problem. They were black and they were poor but in many ways closer to him than any family in Fort Repose. (3.48)

It's notable who Randy chooses to warn about the impending apocalypse. He doesn't tell the mayor. He doesn't tell the local chief of police. He doesn't tell that weird dude down the block who always rants about the Russians. The fact that he tells the Henrys, a family much lower on the social ladder than himself, and none of these other folks, tells us a lot about Randy's view of community.

Chapter 7

[Randy] had begun to give orders in the past few days. [...] He had assumed leadership in the tiny community bound together by the water pipes leading from the artesian well. (7.205)

He doesn't realize at it first, but Randy quickly slips into a leadership role among his rag-tag group. On a certain level, it makes a lot of sense. Randy did time in the Korean War, after all, and that experience gives him a deft sense of what to do in tense situations. But could someone else have led more effectively? Or would the group be better served without an established leader at all? Your call.

By then, the Bragg home was linked to the houses of Admiral Hazzard, Florence Wechek, and the Henrys not only by an arterial system of pipes [...] but by other common needs. (7.175)

Randy's riverside commune forms out of necessity. It starts with running water. It continues with food. It grows into clothing, distilling, and everything in between. Each of them knows that it's impossible for any one of them to survive on their own. But all of them together? That just might give them a fighting chance.

Randy clicked on his transistor radio, and they all listened. Lib McGovern was sitting on the rug next to him, her shoulder touching his arm. The room was warm, and comfortable and somehow safe. (7.132)

This moment at the Braggs' impromptu meat fest is the first time since The Day that Randy feels anything resembling peace. Maybe it's because he's sitting next to the lovely lady he's crushing on. Maybe it's because he just consumed his bodyweight in choice cut beef. These are both important factors, but the biggest one in our estimation is that he's surrounded by the people he cares about most in the world. What's left of it, at least.

Chapter 8

The sight of Peyton enriched Randy's mornings. She was brash and buoyant, bobbing like a brightly colored cork in the maelstrom, unsinkable and unafraid. (8.8)

This is a great example of the positive effects of community. If Randy were toughing it out alone like some sort of post-apocalyptic action hero, he'd have nothing motivating him to keep fighting for survival. But here he has a whole group of people who rely on him. Plus, he likes them a whole lot. That never hurts.

In this new life there was no leisure. If everybody worked as hard as he could until sundown every day, then everybody could eat, although not well. (8.44)

Don't think that this place is like the hippie communes of yore, full of free love, copious chill sessions, and a shocking number of love triangles. This community exists only to survive. That doesn't mean that everyone doesn't share a close, personal bond with one another, but only that it's a different sort of relationship.

Randy was conscious that the Henrys supplied more than their own share of food for the benefit of all. When Preacher's corn crop ripened in June, the disparity would be even greater. (8.33)

The Henrys are the single most important cog in the riverside commune's machine. They grow food. They repair machinery. They work harder than anyone else. One could make a negative reading of this relationship: a poor Black family working to support a rich white one, even as society falls apart. We're not sure if we see Randy as exploiting the Henrys, though. What do you think?

Chapter 10

[Randy] wondered at this change in people and concluded that man was a naturally gregarious creature and they were all starved for companionship and the sight of new faces. (10.150)

This is the big realization Randy makes about humanity over the course of the novel: we just like being with each other. We know—that's a little hard to believe in a world dominated by smartphones. Not a lot of companionship going down in Candy Crush. Even in this era of isolation, however, people still tend to gather together in times of need.

Chapter 13

This was Randy's town and these were his people and he knew he would not leave them. (13.90)

At the end of the novel, our heroes are given the opportunity to evacuate to safe territory. Not a single person takes it. The thing they've built here in the aftermath of disaster is a special thing, and they're not going to abandon it now.

Many things had happened in the past few days and yet their conversation always come back to the Easter services. People hadn't been like that before The Day. (10.150)

Now that everyone is isolated, forced to struggle to survive, it becomes a joyous thing to gather as a community no matter the occasion. Randy isn't even a religious guy and he's singing to high heavens as soon as he stumbles across a notice announcing the service.

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