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On the Beach
Author Nevil Shute
Type of Work Novel
Genre Apocalyptic novel; science fiction novel; social criticism; tragedy
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"