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On the Beach

Nevil Shute

Chapter Seven

Chapter Six

Chapter Eight

Summary

Peter meets with an officer at the Navy Department. He agrees to continue on assignment, but says he cannot take another seagoing appointment in light of the fact that the radiation sickness will hit Melbourne soon. Moira phones Dwight and finds out he is tired and ill from the long submarine journey. She suggests letting Peter put the submarine in dry dock, but Dwight refuses, saying that Uncle Sam would not like an Australian taking care of an American submarine.

Moira invites Dwight to recover at her parents' farm. He accepts, and the Davidsons make sure he is comfortable and pampered. A doctor comes to see Dwight and tells him to rest. The doctor hurries out, saying he needs to go back to the hospital to perform an operation on a woman to "give her a few more years of useful life." Dwight thinks that the doctor is crazy for operating on a woman when they all will die within a few weeks or months, but Moira remarks that the doctor is simply being conscientious, as he as always been. Mr. Davidson also demonstrates that he has not accepted the inevitable, as he talks about building a dam next summer. Moira gives Dwight a pogo stick with his daughter's name painted on it. While he was gone at sea, she found the company that makes pogo sticks and convinced them to make this special one. Dwight is very touched by the present; he now feels he has everything he needs.

Peter and John meet the next day. John mentions how the aircraft carrier has thousands of gallons of the ether-alcohol mixture he needs for his racecar. At first, Peter is shocked that John would use the military's fuel, but he then realizes that such concerns are useless at this point, and he asks if his own car will run on that fuel. The two men talk about the car and the possibility of John dying in a racing accident.

John predicts that the radiation will reach Melbourne by the end of August. John wants Dwight to look over the submarine's report, so he drives his Ferrari over to the farm. John suggests that Dwight take leave to go skiing or fishing. John proposes going trout fishing before the fishing season officially starts, but Dwight wants to stick by the rules.

At the Pastoral Club, Allan Sykes, director of the State Fisheries and Game Department is upset that the Prime Minister wants him to open the trout fishing season earlier than usual. Moira has apparently sent a letter to the Prime Minister making this request. After some debate with people in the club, Sykes decides to change the opening date of the season. The news about the early opening is broadcast on the radio. When Dwight hears the news, he makes plans to try out the fishing rod he had bought for his son.

Melbourne gradually becomes dirtier and more depressing, as people work less and spend more time doing the things they like to do. People also start using cars again, but nobody can say where the gasoline came from—presumably each family has a few gallons secretly stored away.

The Australian Grand Prix is moved up from November to August. John races in the qualifying heats, in which most of the drivers are amateurs and the track is wet and dangerous. Everyone is driving all different types of cars, and many of the drivers are injured or killed in the race. John, however, qualifies for the Grand Prix. His Ferrari is slightly damaged, so he takes spare parts from a Jaguar whose driver was killed during the race.

Analysis

Even as the final days approach, Dwight still refuses to break any rules. He does not want Peter to put the submarine in dry dock because it would violate U.S. Navy regulations, even if the United States no longer exists. In most circumstances, good deeds are morally significant because they beget more good deeds. Now, however, nothing good or bad will live on after Dwight; his moral actions no longer have implications on the next generation. We might say that Dwight is choosing obedience over common sense. Allan Sykes, the director of the Fishing and Game Department, has to make a similar choice between obedience and common sense. Like Dwight, Sykes has a hard time breaking rules. Even though the circumstances are extreme, he has difficulty bringing himself to open the fishing season early. He wants to follow established laws instead of using his own moral judgment to alter the law. Because he is a government official, his inflexible attitude and behavior might be compared to those statesmen who participated in the nuclear war. If the officials used their moral sense, the war might not have reached the extremes it did. However, the war has apparently not changed Allan's thinking. In these episodes, Shute is warning that the government should not put its officials in a position in which they have to choose between being obedient or moral, because in most instances people will simply choose to be obedient.

This description of the qualifying heats for the Australian Grand Prix continues Shute's exploration of the dangerous relationship between humans and the machines. Even though technological gadgets are bringing the world to the end, humans are still in love with bells and whistled. At the racetrack, people are more concerned about proving the efficiency of their machines than the safety of the drivers or spectators. Like the people who created and used the atomic bomb, the racecar drivers are ready and willing to use technology, but are not willing to take responsibility for their potential dangers. The chapter ends with the gruesome thought that John will scavenge parts from the Jaguar for his car. The dead person inside the car appears to be less important than the machine. Human life is no longer valued because everyone will die soon—but it is not clear if has human life ever been valued at all. If human lives were ever valued, then humans should not be facing their own extinction.

Only at the very end, when there are only a few days left, do people start to leave their normal routine and begin to do what they really wanted. They no longer have to worry about money and other mundane items or tasks. It has taken the people a long time to finally end their normal routines and begin to really enjoy themselves. Even with this extra time, some people still do not accept their fate. Peter and Mary devote their time to their garden, despite the fact that they will be dead long before it blossoms and that there will be no one left to enjoy it. Mary remarks that it will be the best garden in Falmouth, showing that competitiveness—among the most common human traits—does not disappear, even in these circumstances.

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