Study Guide

On the Beach Chapter 6

By Nevil Shute

Chapter 6

  • Twenty-five days later, Scorpion is nearing Santa Maria Island. They've recently passed San Francisco and Los Angeles, and what little they saw looked nasty.
  • So the men of the Scorpion head into the mouth of the Columbia River, which will lead them to the island. The crew is anxious after being holed up in the submarine for so long, so Dwight lets them take turns peering through the periscope.
  • They reach the town of Edmonds, and a boatman named Swain requests a look—Edmonds is his hometown. He looks through the periscope and nostalgically comments on the familiar sights.
  • They try "hailing the shore" using a megaphone but get no response (6.42). Finally, Swain relinquishes the periscope to Dwight and leaves the room.
  • Suddenly, Dwight hears a loud clatter and the sound of footsteps on the top of the submarine. His suspicions are confirmed when he hears a splash in the water and sees Swain swimming to shore.
  • Dwight sighs and tells Swain via-megaphone that they won't be able to take him aboard again. Swain responds by telling him to "get stuffed," which actually makes Dwight smile (6.60).
  • Without any other choice, Dwight tells the crew to get moving. Before long, they can see Santa Maria Island in the distance.
  • Here's the plan: Sunderstrom will go ashore, as he has the most familiarity with the island. He'll have a Hazmat suit (and a tank full of fresh air), but that will only last him about two hours.
  • Scorpion surfaces, and Sunderstrom climbs onto the shore. He sees some pretty nasty stuff while walking through the island, including a group of people who died mid-meal.
  • Sunderstrom enters the broadcast tower, and it certainly doesn't seem like anyone's been here. Then, when he sees an open window, it all clicks—the wind has been pushing the window in and out, which causes it to occasionally hit the board and send out messages. Crikey—what a buzzkill.
  • Bummed, Sunderstrom sends out a radio message relaying his findings and shuts down the station for good. We're pretty bummed, too, frankly.
  • After Sunderstrom is decontaminated, Scorpion heads out. They pass Swain on their way out: he's sitting in a motor boat, fishing contentedly. They share a few words and say their goodbyes.
  • Mary gives Moira a call that night: she's heard word of Sunderstrom's broadcast. Both women are incredibly relieved that their boys are safe, and they plan to hang out two nights later.
  • Moira spends the day helping Mary with Jennifer and enjoying time with her friend. Moira is excited that Dwight will be back, and she surprises Mary by turning down her offer for booze.
  • The women talk about Moira's chances with Dwight. Mary thinks that she's home-free, but Moira claims that his refusal to woo her because of his loyalty to his family is, honestly, one of the reasons she digs him so much. If only there was more time…
  • Scorpion returns nearly three weeks later. Sadly, they've "disproved the Jorgenson effect," which means that radiation is still spreading unabated (6.237). Wow—we can't believe this is happening.
  • Dwight receives a message from the ranking U.S. Navy official (who's located in Brisbane) explaining that he's relinquishing his position, which makes Dwight an admiral. That seems like good news, but what it really means is that the radiation has reached Brisbane.