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ON THE BEACH BY NEVIL SHUTE - FREE ONLINE STUDY GUIDE / ANALYSIS
The most pervasive theme is that life should be lived as well as one knows how, regardless of impending doom. Several of the characters note the fact that everyone will die. This is nothing new; they simply know when they will die, and it will be about the same time everyone else does. Although the characters discuss the end and its implications, making plans for how they will shut down their lives when the time comes, they spend much more time making plans for the future beyond the time when there will be a future, and enjoying their lives as they always have. Even as the book ends, Dwight is looking forward to going home to his wife and children in Mystic, Connecticut, and Moira is saying that she’s coming, too.
Dwight and Moira hint at the notion that life continues after what we recognize as death. This idea is only implied, and perhaps could not even be considered a theme, but it is certainly recurrent enough to be important.
Another theme conveyed by Dwight Towers, as the best example of the thinking, is that life should be purposeful and filled with worthwhile endeavors, even if those endeavors will be cut short by premature death. Knowing the time and the inevitability of death should not affect the caliber of one’s character, nor the quality of his life.
MOOD / MEANING OF THE TITLE
You would expect the mood of On the Beach to be somewhat like the mood of T. S. Eliot’s poem, The Wasteland, part of which is quoted on the title page, and from which the book derives its title:
“In this last of meeting places
The mood is actually much less somber than the mood of Eliot’s poem. As the characters grope together in the last large city on earth, on the beach of the tumid river Styx (the passageway to Hades, the place of the dead in Greek mythology), they may speak little, but it’s because they are busy living to the last moment. Most of them talk of their impending doom and the end of life on the planet as if it were some piece of scientific news detached from them. They laugh about forgetting that there will be no future. Although the world is not ending with a bang, it is certainly not ending with a whimper. The phrase “matter-of-fact” best describes the mood of almost all the characters. The reporting of their occasional tears or outbursts of anger, but much more, the calm with which most of them face their end, is akin to a BBC news reader relating the story in understated, well-modulated tones and phrases, without hysteria.Table of Contents | Message Board | Downloadable/Printable Version