Study Guide

Alas, Babylon Transformation

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Chapter 1

Randy knew he wasn't an alcoholic because an alcoholic craved liquor. He never craved it. He just drank for pleasure. (1.23)

We don't know if that one will hold up in a court of law, Randy. Jokes aside, this gives us an indication of what Randy's character was like before The Day. He's not a bad dude or anything, just not the kind of guy you can rely on.

Chapter 3
Bill McGovern

"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 McGovern is another guy who goes through a serious transformation over the course of the novel. Before The Day, Bill is caught in a serious depression after retiring from his job as a high-powered corporate executive. And what's his personal transformation, you ask? You'll just have to keep reading to find out.

Dan could imagine no combination of circumstances that would allow him to amass enough capital to buy off his former wife and set him free to fight the plagues. (3.110-111)

His dream of being a super-doctor crushed by a monthly onslaught of alimony bills, Dan Gunn has grown bitter and bored treating rich retirees for their imaginary illnesses. He feels trapped—like he'll be stuck running in the same place his entire life. If only some crazy, unforeseen disaster would come along to shake things up. If only.

Chapter 5

Of one thing, Edgar was certain. He would not be crushed with the mob. He had been a banker all his life and that was the way he was going to die, a banker. (5.236)

Not everyone is capable of transformation in the face of crisis, however. Edgar Quisenberry, for example, sees the only transformation in his future as a nasty one—from a big-wig banker, the most prosperous man in town, to just another guy struggling to put food on the table. He refuses to live with such an extreme demotion.

Chapter 7

As she dug, her stature increased in Randy's eyes. She was like a fine sword, slender and flexible, but steel: a woman of courage. (7.253)

Like her beau, Lib doesn't allow herself to be destroyed by the nuclear apocalypse—she makes it strengthen her. As a result, Randy gains a new appreciation for Lib as a person, seeing her not simply as a charming, attractive woman, but as a truly tough one.

Bill McGovern

"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)

Bill almost falls into the same trap of self-pity as Edgar Quisenberry, his agony over his wife's death and sudden lack of resources nearly overwhelming him. But don't you worry. Old Billy boy has a trick or two up his sleeve yet.

Chapter 8

He missed whiskey not at all. Since The Day, he had drunk hardly anything, nor found need for it. (8.5)

Rehab ain't got nothing on the nuclear apocalypse. Randy has been so focused on protecting the people around him that he doesn't even think about touching booze. Good on him.

Alice would never admit it aloud, but for the first time in her thirty years as librarian of Fort Repose she felt fulfilled, even important. (8.61)

Alice is another one who might slightly prefer life after The Day, or at least parts of it. The library, once the scorn of a town hypnotized by exciting movies and loud music, is now the most popular spot around. She used to struggle to get kids to come in—now she struggles to keep them out.

Chapter 9

Bill was wearing gray flannels raggedly cut off above the knees, tennis shoes, and nothing else [...] He no longer looked like a Caesar, but like an unkempt Jove. (9.28)

This is a different Bill than the one we first first met. After the death of his wife, he rebuilds his life by focusing on his new job: assistant mechanic. No pay, but the benefits are swell. This has the twofold effect of making him feel like an indispensable member of the community, while also giving him a sense of purpose he's lacked since his retirement.

Chapter 13
Dan Gunn

Dan said, "I'm very fond of Helen. I don't know what I'd do without her."

"Why do anything without her?"

"Randy, I want to marry her." (13.6-9)

After The Day, Dan becomes the doctor he always wanted to be: a fearless adventurer fighting rare diseases, from smallpox to typhoid to radiation sickness. Even better, he's found himself a new lady—and a mighty fine one at that. In this way, Dan conquers both issues that were holding him back. And to think, all it took was a nuclear war.

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