Nevil Shute’s On The Beach

Enroute to Moira’s parents’ farm before the fishing trip, Dwight is holding the fishing rod he’s bought for Dwight Junior, and plans to try out on the trip. He thinks of the world’s end.

“He sat in the back seat of the car fingering the little rod as they drove out into the suburbs, looking at the streets and houses that they passed in the grey light of the winter day. Very soon, perhaps in a month’s time, there would be no one here, no living creatures but the cats and dogs that had been granted a short reprieve. Soon they too would be gone; summers and winters would pass by and these houses and these streets would know them. Presently, as time passed, the radioactivity would pass also; with a cobalt half-life of about five years these streets and houses would be habitable again in twenty years at the latest, and probably sooner than that. The human race was to be wiped out and the world made clean again for wiser occupants without undue delay. Well, probably that made sense.”

Chapter 8, pp. 276-277

Reading this novel led me to think back on the discussion we had in class during my Avatar presentation, along with a few other occasions. It seems like this idea of technology overtaking society leads us to believe that humans are at fault and essentially the cause for the inevitable self-destruction of our race. The fact that we embrace all this technology that surrounds us along with the strides and progression machines are making, it’s inevitable that our continuous use of them will cause something more drastic. Nevil Shute portrays the human world as a dying civilization, much like the one we see in Avatar. Humans have destroyed their own world and it is time for a fresh start. All the warfare that occurs between all the different countries is evidence that humans are the one destroying each other and the world they live in. Priorities seem to be a problem, in the text and in today’s world. The people seem to have accepted what has happened rather than try to fight against it. They don’t resist the government’s propaganda on taking the suicide pills in order to die rather than suffering in the nuclear radiation. The characters show no emotion and it’s hard to grasp the point of the novel. Is Shute telling us that humans are eventually going to deteriorate because of each other? And that we should just accept it?

This novel was a bit different than anything we’ve worked with. There was no virtual world where humans could enter or supercomputers dictating reality. Its focus was more on this post-apocalyptic, end-of-the-world theme, and how it took the nuclear destruction of the world for humans to appreciate what they had. The characters in the novel decide to do things meaningful to them but at the same time won’t matter now that their time is coming to an end. The people have now decided to not take life for granted and enjoy what is left for them since time is not on their side. This speaks to the aspects of human nature that don’t quite make sense. It takes such a tragic event with dire circumstances to shift the way people look at life. We’ve spoken about the idea that humans care more about materialistic means rather than living life to the fullest. Buying sneakers, cell phones, laptops, and all the latest trends cause people to lose sight of what is really important. The characters in the novel don’t really seem to know why certain countries have attacked or are being accused of attacking other countries. Doubt and questions are what remain until the people come to the conclusion that there isn’t much hope to live through the radiation worldwide. I guess humans destroyed their own world so they might as well accept it for what it is and live out the remaining time they have.

The one thing I would call Shute out from his novel is the premise behind it. I highly doubt that people would react the way the characters do to the inevitable and definitive end of the world. I feel like humans would riot and react in a dangerous way, rather than enjoying what time is remaining. Our society is one that is greedy and only cares for their wellbeing. I don’t want to sound like I’m against everything humans do because there are good people out there who do good things. But our society makes it easier to be consumers rather than people who share. We take rather than give. We destroy rather than fix. And then we complain or panic when things aren’t the way they should be.

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