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Free Study Guide/Summary for On The Beach by Nevil Shute - Free Book Notes
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1. On the first voyage of the Scorpion, to northern Australia, the crew members talk about what they know of the nuclear war that will prove to mean the end of the world: “ ‘ Good God! said the Australian. ‘So we bombed Russia?’

‘That’s what happened,’ said the captain heavily. John Osborne said, ‘It’s understandable. London and Washington were out - right out. Decisions had to be made quick before another lot of bombs arrived. Things were very strained with Russia, after the Albanian bomb, and these aircraft were identified as Russian.’ He paused. ‘Somebody had to make a decision, of course, and make it in a matter of minutes. Up at Canberra they think now that he made it wrong.’

‘But if it was a mistake, why didn’t they get together and stop it? Why did they go on?’ The captain said, ‘It’s mighty difficult to stop a war when all the statesmen have been killed.’ The scientist said, ‘The trouble is, the damn things got too cheap. The original uranium bomb only cost about fifty thousand quid towards the end. Every little pipsqueak country like Albania could have a stockpile of them, and every little country that had that, thought it could defeat the major countries in a surprise attack. That was the real trouble.’

‘Another was the aeroplanes,’ the captain said. “The Russians had been giving the Egyptians aeroplanes for years. So had Britain for that matter, and to Israel and to Jordan. The big mistake was ever to have given them a long-range aeroplane.’....

‘Christ,’ said the American softly, ‘I don’t know what I’d have done in their shoes. I’m glad I wasn’t.’ The scientist said, ‘I should think you’d have tried to negotiate.’

‘With an enemy knocking hell out of the United States and killing all our people? When I still had weapons in my hands? Just stop fighting and give in? I’d like to think that I was so high-minded, but - well, I don’t know...If that situation had devolved on me, I wouldn’t have known how to handle it.’

‘They didn’t either,’ said the scientist. He stretched himself, and yawned. ‘Just too bad. But don’t go blaming the Russians. It wasn’t the big countries that set off this thing. It was the little ones, the Irresponsibles.’

Peter Holmes grinned, and said, ‘It’s a bit hard on all the rest of us.’” Chapter 3, pp. 94, 95-96

2. On the same voyage, the men discuss the unreality of the situation: “ ‘You’ve got six months more,’ remarked John Osborne. ‘Plus or minus something. Be satisfied with that. You’ve always known that you were going to die sometime. Well, now you know when. That’s all.’ He laughed. ‘Just make the most of what you’ve got left.’

‘I know that,’ said Peter. ‘The trouble is I can’t think of anything I want to do more than what I’m doing now.’ ‘Cooped up in bloody Scorpion?’

‘Well - yes. It’s our job. I really meant, at home.’ ‘No imagination. You want to turn Mohammedan and start a harem.’.. The liaison officer shook his head. ‘It’s a nice idea, but it wouldn’t be practical. Mary wouldn’t like it.’ He stopped smiling. ‘The trouble is, I can’t really believe it’s going to happen. Can you?

‘Not after what you’ve seen?’ Peter shook his head. ‘No. If we’d seen any damage . . .’ ‘No imagination whatsoever,’ remarked the scientist. ‘It’s the same with all you service people. That can’t happen to me.’ He paused. ‘But it can. And it certainly will.’ ‘I suppose I haven’t got any imagination,’ said Peter thoughtfully. ‘It’s - it’s the end of the world. I’ve never had to imagine anything like that before.”

John Osborne laughed. ‘It’s not the end of the world at all,’ he said. ‘It’s only the end of us. The world will go on just the same, only we shan’t be in it. I dare say it will get along all right without us.’

Dwight Towers raised his head. ‘I suppose that’s right. There didn’t seem to be much wrong with Cairns, or Port Moresby either.’ He paused, thinking of the flowering trees that he had seen on shore through the periscope, cascaras and flame trees, the palms standing in the sunlight. ‘Maybe we’ve been too silly to deserve a world like this,’ he said. The scientist said, ‘That’s absolutely and precisely right.’”

Chapter 3, pp.96-97

3. After Peter Holmes and Dwight Towers return from Scorpion’s first exploratory voyage, Mary asks Moira if Mary should invite Dwight to Falmouth for the weekend. Later, Moira and Dwight talk about what Scorpion’s sister sub, U.S.S. Swordfish, found in an exploratory voyage to the east coast of the USA, including their home port of New London, Connecticut, near Dwight’s home in Mystic, Connecticut.

“ ‘ It’s nothing to me,’ said the girl carelessly. ‘I don’t care if you do or don’t.’ ‘Darling!’

‘It’s not. Stop poking your stick in my ear. Anyway, he’s a married man.’ Puzzled, Mary said, ‘He can’t be, dear. Not now.’

‘That’s all you know,’ the girl replied. ‘It makes things a bit difficult.’. . . Sitting with him perched on a rail, watching the rosy lights reflected in the calm sea, savouring the benison of the warm evening and the comfort of her drink, she asked him, ‘Dwight, tell me about the cruise that Swordfish made. Did you say she went to the United States?’ . . .

She said, ‘Don’t talk about it if you’d rather not. . . . When you let me use your cabin to change in,’ she said, ‘I saw your photographs. Are those your family?’
He nodded. ‘That’s my wife and our two kids,’ he said, a little proudly. ‘Sharon. Dwight goes to grade school, and Helen, she’ll be going next fall. She goes to a little kindergarten right now, just up the street.’

She had known for some time that his wife and family were very real to him, more real by far than the half-life in a far corner of the world that had been forced upon him since the war. The devastation of the Northern Hemisphere was not real to him, as it was not real to her. He had seen nothing of the destruction of the war, as she had not; in thinking of his wife and of his home it was impossible for him to visualize them in any other circumstances than those in which he had left them. He had little imagination, and that formed a solid core for his contentment in Australia. She knew that she was treading upon very dangerous ground. She wanted to be kind to him, and she had to say something. She asked a little timidly, ‘What’s Dwight going to be when he grows up?’”

Chapter 3, pp. 102, 112-113, 115-116

4. Later, at Moira’s parents’ home, Dwight and Moira look at her childhood toys. She struggles with resignation at the memories and hopes they evoke, and he tries to support her in the effort.

“He smiled at her. ‘It’s kind of fun, looking at other people’s toys and trying to think what they must have looked like at that age. I can just imagine you at seven, jumping around on that Pogo stick.’

‘And flying into a temper every other minute,’ she said. She stood for a moment looking in at the door thoughtfully. ‘I never would let Mummy give any of my toys away,’ she said quietly. ‘I said that I was going to keep them for my children to play with. Now there aren’t going to be any.’

‘Too bad,’ he said. ‘Still, that’s the way it is.’ He pulled the door to and closed it on so many sentimental hopes.”

Chapter 4, p. 144

5. Moira has a conversation with a gossiping neighbor who’s told her that someone saw Dwight buying an emerald and diamond bracelet for his wife, and wondered if it was for Moira. They also wondered why he was asking in the jewelry store where he could find a Pogo stick (for his daughter, Helen).

“The girl said, ‘He’s probably courting a rich widow with a little girl. The bracelet for the mother and the Pogo stick for the daughter. What’s wrong with that? ‘Nothing,’ said Mrs. Fraser, ‘only we all thought that he was courting you.’

‘That’s just where you’ve been wrong,’ the girl said equably. ‘It’s me that’s been courting him.’ . . . Everyone was going a bit mad these days, of course - Peter and Mary Holmes with their garden, her father with his farm programme, John Osborne with his racing motorcar, Sir Douglas Froude with the club port, and now Dwight Towers with his Pogo stick. Herself also, possibly, with Dwight Towers. All with an eccentricity that verged on madness, born of the times they lived in.”

Chapter 5, p. 183

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