Study Guide

On the Beach What's Up With the Ending?

By Nevil Shute

What's Up With the Ending?

Spoiler alert.

Everyone dies.

Yeah, bummer is right. This novel is the biggest tease in the world: it's like if The Lord of the Rings series went on for three books and ended with Sauron winning. While On the Beach presents a few possible ways that the radiation could have been avoided, each option fails in the end.

Before we get so emo that our hair starts growing out at acute angles, let's take a closer look at how each character meets his or her end:

  • Peter and Mary, having finally agreed to euthanize their daughter Jennifer, take their euthanasia pills while in bed. Mary's final words to Peter are that she's "had a lovely time since [they] got married" (9.228).
  • John takes his pills in the front seat of his Ferrari. With his mother already dead, he decides that there's no place he'd rather be than in his fancy car.
  • Dwight decides to sink the Scorpion, ostensibly to prevent people from accessing the secret information contained therein, but mostly because it seems like the right thing to do.
  • Moira follows Scorpion after she says goodbye to Dwight, choosing to die as close as possible to the man she loves.

Do you see what we're getting at? In the months leading up the end, each character becomes obsessed with a single aspect of his or her life in order to avoid thinking about the reality of the situation. Coincidentally (or not) these are the same things they cling to when they die—Peter and Mary to their home, John to his Ferrari, Dwight to his naval duty, and Moira to Dwight. If nothing else, we can take comfort in the fact that each character died doing the thing they loved most.

We may also take some comfort in the fact that despite what we may have expected, total chaos does not break out when everyone left in the world figures out they've only got a few months left to live. Peter, Mary, Moira, Dwight—they all continue to behave like decent people, despite it all. We're not sure if that makes this book secretly optimistic, but you know, it's something, right?