Skip over navigation

On the Beach

Nevil Shute

Chapter Three

Chapter Two

Chapter Three, page 2

page 1 of 2
Summary

The crew spends nine days on the sub. They use a loudspeaker to call out to any people who might still be alive on shore, but a lone dog is the only living creature they see. From the sea, everything on land looks the same except for the lack of people. The city of Cairns is full of sunshine, flame trees, and pleasant shop windows—but a complete ghost town.

Peter suggests writing a history of the war, but John questions why they should bother when no one will be left to read it. Peter would still like a history because, even though he was in the war, he does not know a thing about how it started or escalated. John knows that 4,700 nuclear bombs were dropped in the war. Dwight states that a month before the war he attended a meeting in which American intelligence officers spoke about a potential conflict between China and Russia. The Russians wanted to take over Shanghai. The Chinese, for their part, wanted to bomb Russia's industrial cities to gain more land for its crowded population.

No one thought the rest of the world would react to a war between Russia and China, but the small country of Albania started a war on another front, and bombed Naples. Then a bomb dropped on Tel Aviv, but no one knows who was responsible for that one. The United States and Britain then flew a demonstration flight over Cairo. The next day, Egypt bombed Washington and London. The United States mistakenly thought the Egyptian bombs came from Russia, and therefore bombed Russia in retaliation. John blames the war on the fact that the atomic bomb became so cheap to produce that every country could possess one. Dwight argues that the trouble came from Britain and Russia supplying the Middle East with long-range airplanes.

Many countries' top statesmen were killed in the war, leaving the command in the hands of junior military officers, who continued the war until all the bombs were dropped. Dwight, Peter, and John discuss what they would have done if they had been in the junior officers' position. Dwight admits that although he would like to think he would have negotiated, he probably would have done the same thing they did—continue the bombing.

John says that they have six months left before the radiation arrives, and he urges them to make the most of it. Peter responds that he would rather be working than doing anything else. He still cannot believe they are all going to die. John accuses Peter of having no imagination. Peter agrees he does not have an imagination, but says that he never had to imagine the end of the world before. Dwight pauses to think of the beautiful landscape he has seen from the shore and says, "Maybe we've been too silly to deserve a world like this."

When they arrive back at Melbourne, they give their report. They have no good news—only John's radiation readings. Dwight suggests sending someone onshore during the next expedition. Peter phones Mary to tell her that he is safe, but says that someone aboard caught the measles and that it is potentially contagious. Mary worries that baby Jennifer will catch the measles.

More Help

Previous Next

Readers' Notes allow users to add their own analysis and insights to our SparkNotes—and to discuss those ideas with one another. Have a novel take or think we left something out? Add a Readers' Note!

Follow Us