full title · On the Beach
author · Nevil Shute
type of work · Novel
genre · Apocalyptic novel; science fiction novel; social criticism; tragedy
language · English
time and place written · Mid-1950s; Australia
date of first publication · 1957
publisher · Ballantine Books
narrator · Third-person omniscient narrator, with perspective shifting among the main characters
point of view · The narrator speaks in the third person, and switches from person to person, giving a complete picture of the events. The narrator primarily provides an objective viewpoint, telling what the characters look like and do and revealing few of their inner thoughts.
tone · Sincere; sorrowful; warning
tense · Immediate past
setting (time) · December 1962 to August 1963, one year after the end of a worldwide nuclear war
setting (place) · Primarily Melbourne, Australia, and other towns in southeastern Australia; also a submarine voyage to Seattle and nearby coastal areas of Washington State
major conflict · The characters cope with the reality that they are among the few people in the world left alive after a catastrophic nuclear war, and that within several months they too will inevitably die from radiation sickness
rising action · The characters get to know each other; the Jorgensen theory provides some hope that the radiation might subside; the mysterious radio signal from the Seattle area also provides home that some have survived; the submarine searches for life along the coast of northern Australia but finds none
climax · The investigation of the Seattle radio signal finds that it has been a false hope; the Jorgensen theory is disproved
falling action · The submarine returns to Australia after the trip to America; the characters spend their last days in various ways; all ultimately commit suicide with pills as radiation sickness sets in
themes · Self-destruction; humankind's destructive relationship with technology; knowledge as both danger and salvation
motifs · Work; sanity; obedience
symbols · The radio signal from Seattle; the beach; the narcissus flower
foreshadowing · The epigraph to the novel quotes T.S. Eliot's "The Hollow Men," which indicates that the world will end "[n]ot with a bang but a whimper"
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