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On the Beach

Nevil Shute


Key Facts

Key Facts

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

protagonist ·  Primarily Dwight Towers and Moira Davidson, though Peter Holmes and John Osborne also have major roles

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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