Study Guide

Alas, Babylon Suffering

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Chapter 5

On the bed lay a mound of gray flesh [...] Randy felt no sense of surprise or shock whatsoever. He had become a familiar of sudden death in Korea. (5.101)

Randy's experiences in the Korean War help him a great deal in the aftermath of The Day. He witnessed a lot of gruesome stuff over there—death, suffering, the whole kit and kaboodle—which steels him for the horrors he witnesses in the remnants of Fort Repose.

In this second Randy made an important decision. Yesterday, he would have stopped instantly. [...] But yesterday was a past period in history. (5.69)

This is an important moment for Randy. There's a car crash on the side of road, with a dead or wounded woman lying nearby. Does he stop? Or does he keep driving? Randy ultimately stops and checks on her, but the fact that he considers ignoring her shows how much the world has already changed.

Chapter 6

Most of those who died in North America saw nothing at all, since they died in bed, in a millisecond slipping from sleep into deeper darkness. (6.2)

If it makes you feel any better, those who die in the initial strikes don't suffer much. It's over before they even know what's happening. The people who are really up a creek are the survivors. They have no choice but to struggle and suffer in a newly harsh world.

Chapter 7

With perhaps half the country's population dead, death itself, unless it took someone close and dear, was trivial. (7.207)

As their suffering levels shoot through the roof, our heroes become numb to the horribly depressing circumstances around them. There's something profoundly sad about that, but it's the only way they can survive with their minds intact.

Chapter 8

These new highwaymen were ruthless and evil men who lately had been choking the thin trickle of communications and trade between towns and villages. (8.265)

Nukes would be bad enough. Rampant starvation would be bad enough. No electricity would be bad enough. But now we have to deal with gangs of roving thugs? That's just too much. These highwaymen do serious damage to any community they touch, as we see when they assault the noble Dan Gunn, stealing his equipment and leaving him for dead.

He was hungry. He was always hungry. No matter how much he ate the night before, he was always starving in the morning. (8.1)

It's hard to maintain your daily recommended value of vitamins and minerals when you can hardly put food on the table. This lack of sustenance takes a silent, but serious toll on Randy and his pals, sapping them of energy, limiting their mental focus, and causing plenty of hangry crankiness.

Randy Bragg

"No, thanks," Randy said. He was glad he wasn't a doctor. A doctor required special courage that Randy felt he did not possess. (8.74)

Randy joins Dan Gunn on a few house calls and regrets it every time. We would too. Dan witnesses an incredible amount of suffering each and every day. It must require some serious mental fortitude to work so hard in such a depressing situation.

Chapter 9

"I think of smallpox as something out of the Middle Ages, like the Black Plague. [...] What happens now without vaccine?" (9.191)

Did we mention that Fort Repose is also is the crosshairs of some fairly brutal diseases, including smallpox and typhoid? It's getting medieval up in here. Once again we're reminded that the suffering of Fort Repose doesn't decrease as time passes—it only gets worse.

Chapter 10

He could easily have switched gears and gone on, but he was a physician, and he was Dan Gunn. He turned off the engine and got out of the car. (10.39)

Dan is an empathetic guy. He has to be, otherwise he wouldn't be good at his job. Unfortunately, that empathy bites him in the butt when he's tricked into stopping by a group of highwaymen, beaten, robbed, and left for dead. Even after this brutal attack, however, Dan refuses to lose his compassion for those who suffer.

Chapter 11

During the night highwaymen had raided the isolated home of Jim Hickey, the beekeeper, on Pasco Creek Road. They had killed him and his wife. (11.9)

A few months earlier, Jim Hickey gave Randy some honey for free, an incredibly kind gesture that nearly knocked Randy's socks off. So, yeah, we got a little teary-eyed when we read this. We'll cop to that. One of the hardest things about reading Alas, Babylon is seeing good-hearted people go through such heart-wrenching things.

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