Discuss the parallels between Alas, Babylon and the traditional western.
In American film and literature, the western is traditionally the story of how a wilderness was turned into a civilized country. The western hero is a figure of order and justice, a sheriff brings law to an isolated community. Fort Repose may not be a frontier town when the novel begins, but the collapse of civilization following the nuclear attacks rapidly places it on the frontier, and allows lawlessness to take over. This transition is symbolized by the deaths of such authority figures as the police chief and the bank president, and the repeated attacks on the local doctor, Dan Gunn. Randy Bragg, in his capacity as an Army Reserve officer, is the sheriff figure of Alas, Babylon. He is a classic reluctant hero, with a new wife waiting for him at home, but he nevertheless does the right thing, by gathering a posse and going after the villains. There is even a shootout reminiscent of classic westerns, in which Randy's men deal with the bandits and hang the sole surviving robber.
Is Alas, Babylon an optimistic novel? Why or why not?
Certainly, disastrous, tragic events take place in Alas, Babylon—cities are wiped out and millions of people are killed in a pointless conflict. But the message of the novel contrasts with much of post- apocalyptic fiction, in which nuclear war either wipes out the entire population of earth or reduces humanity to a savage, Stone Age existence. In Alas, Babylon, order breaks down in Fort Repose, but over the course of the novel it is gradually restored, largely through cooperation and friendship between the main characters. The villainous characters are drug addicts and gangsters who appear only briefly, and the inhabitants of Fort Repose are presented as good, decent people doing their best in an extraordinary situation. By the end of the novel, they have restored law and order, and have successfully overcome a number of crises involving food shortages, radiation poisoning, and crime. When an offer arrives to take some of them out of Florida it is turned down, as the characters prefer to remain and continue rebuilding their home. It is difficult to see this celebration of friendship and community as anything but the optimistic message that even in adversity, the human spirit survives.
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