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ON THE BEACH BY NEVIL SHUTE - CHAPTER SUMMARY / ANALYSIS
As Peter, Dwight, and John Osborne settle in after their cruise on Scorpion, the main characters all set themselves up for their last few months, with little essential work to do, and some final pastimes to enjoy.
Peter Holmes reports to the Second Naval Member, and asks not to go out on the next voyage of the Scorpion. Commander Towers has asked that Holmes remain assigned to Scorpion as liaison, to which Peter agrees, providing he can work and commute from home in Falmouth.
Moira calls Dwight and asks him to come to Harkaway for a few days, because he sounds sick. Scorpion has to go into dry dock for hull reconditioning, but Moira tells Dwight to let Peter Holmes supervise after the sub goes into dry dock the next day, and Dwight agrees to meet her at a hotel the next day to go to her father’s farm. When they meet, Dwight looks “like something the cat brought in and didn’t want”. There is no naval surgeon in home port to examine him, so Moira calls her mother to ask the Davidsons’ family doctor to stop by the house when she and Dwight get there. They put him to bed with a hot water bottle, a hot fire in the fireplace, and a hot drink. Dr. Fletcher arrives, rules out radiation sickness, diagnoses flu, and orders the new commander of the American navy to stay in bed until one full day after his fever is gone. Dwight is amazed when the doctor says he is doing surgery the next day on a woman’s stomach to give her a few more years of useful life. Moira’s father has booked a man with a bulldozer to help him build a dam to hold the rain for next summer.
Moira gives Dwight a brand new pogo stick, with “Helen Towers” lettered on the side. He is emotional: “I don’t know what to say. Now I’ve got something for everyone.” When Moira asks Dwight if he’s got everything he wants, he answers, “Sure, honey. I’ve got everything now.”
At Peter Holmes’s suggestion, John Osborne drives his Ferrari to Harkaway, so that Dwight can sign off on John’s draft report concerning the Jorgensen effect. (With some justification, everyone keeps telling John not to kill anybody, or asking if he’s killed anybody yet, since the car is really too powerful for around town driving. He retorts, “They’re all going to be dead in a couple of months’ time anyway...So am I, and so are you. I’m going to have a bit of fun with this thing first.”) John tells Dwight that he plans to race the Ferrari before the end, and he wouldn’t mind if he dies in a crash instead of sick, except that he’d hate to ruin such a beautiful piece of machinery. Dwight says he envies John having such an intense pleasure to occupy his mind. John suggests that he see some of Australia, and says that people are skiing like mad in nearby mountains. Dwight wouldn’t like to meet his end in bed with a broken leg, but he asks John about trout fishing. The problem is that the season doesn’t start until September 1st, and John has just said that the end of August looks like the time the radiation will get to their area. A few weeks later, Sir Douglas Froude talks with Mr. Alan Sykes, the director of the State Fisheries and Game Department, at the Pastoral Club. Mr.Sykes has received a note from the Prime Minister after the PM was visited by Moira, asking that he open trout season early, which he decides to do.
In what’s left of Australia few people are working more than they feel like doing. There are still riotous parties and drunks lying in the street, but much less than before. The electrical supply is uninterrupted, but the people, with more time on their hands than usual, spend it scheming and searching for other necessities and extras. They begin to drive again, using their private hoards of petrol. Peter Holmes gets his Morris Minor back on the road. The First Naval Member says it’s only fitting that the Supreme Commander of the U. S. Naval Forces should have transport, and presents Dwight with a grey painted Chevrolet and a driver. And John Osborne enters his Ferrari in a qualifying race for the Australian Grand Prix. He has probably the fastest car in Australia, but he is the least experienced race car driver. A wheel bends during the qualifying heat, but he realizes he’s in second place, has the wheel changed, and finishes the race in second place, despite the wheel going out again. After the race, John gets permission from the widow of a driver who was killed to strip some of the equipment from the driver’s car if John can use it. She says her husband wanted to go this way, instead of radiation sickness, and that he would rather have his car’s parts be put to use on another driver’s car than sent to a junkyard. In the same way John is able to cannibalize parts from several other crashed cars whose drivers will no longer race.
The matter-of-fact way in which the book’s characters, and everyone in Australia, handle their impending doom has changed to this extent: the imminence of death is on their minds so that they consider it immediately in the situations that arise and the decisions they make. Having done that, most of them still live as if there will be a future, and go on planning their lives as if they have more than several weeks to live. This paradox is exemplified by Dwight. When Moira gives him the pogo stick for his daughter Helen, he has closure on preparing to die, because he now has a gift to take each member of his beloved family when he goes home to see them in September.
Observe that still there are no riots over supplies, crime sprees, or unprovoked incidents of violence as the end of the world approaches in southern Australia.Table of Contents | Message Board | Downloadable/Printable Version