The next day, Dwight goes to church. He then meets with some other officers and the Prime Minister of Australia, who gives the details of the Scorpion's mission. Dwight is warned not to surface the submarine near Townsville, a town in northern Australia. If people are still alive there and see the ship, it would only give them false hope.


The extreme events that have preceded the novel have shifted the characters' definition of sanity. Dwight is a thoroughly practical man, yet he still believes his family is alive and waiting for him in America. He is emotionally incapable of admitting to a rational awareness of their deaths. Delusion has become a practical means to cope with the enormous tragedy of the situation. Dwight can continue to function only as long as he continues to believe his family is alive. At this point in the novel, Dwight seems alone in his insanity, but soon we see nearly all the characters demonstrate a resistance to believe and accept the situation. Shute subtly introduces religion in this chapter, but he never gives it the attention we might expect in a novel about the end of the world. Dwight uses the church as a quiet place to daydream about his family, not as a place to pray. He finds more comfort in the familiar look and smell of the church than in the prayers. The Holmeses do not attend church, but they mention that more people go to services than ever before.

The characters in On the Beach find salvation in work rather than religion. As soon as Dwight leaves the church, he turns his thoughts toward the work to be done on the submarine. As in many of Shute's novels, the characters are always at work—in this case, working until the last day of humanity. Work serves as a distraction and a break from the tedium of waiting for the world to end. It also serves as a safe alternative to more destructive human habits, such as excessive drinking. Moira keenly observes Dwight's workaholic tendencies while admitting her alcoholic tendencies. A double brandy is her ticket to a world of romance and make-believe. She admits she might not drink as much if she had someone in her life who cared about what she did to her body. Dwight does not respond to Moira's advance because he still believes his wife is alive and waiting for him.

Moira's desire to escape the morbid reality contrasts sharply with John Osborne's fascination with studying the radiation. John's reaction to the situation is emblematic of the way the scientific community as a whole responds to the disaster. While we might expect the scientists to be horrified about the war their technologies have helped create, they instead continue to objectively conduct experiments. John declares that he will enjoy discovering the effects of radiation poisoning, not considering the moral and ethical implications of his words or actions. It is this same scientific objectivity and detachment that made it possible for researchers to create the bombs in the first place. John is Shute's alter ego in many ways. From his own life experience as an engineer, Shute understands the minds of scientists and engineers who create weapons of war. Moira responds sarcastically to John's shocking comments, but Shute never fully criticizes John for his viewpoint. Shute writes like an objective scientist, observing human behavior but not criticizing it—leaving us to draw our own moral and ethical conclusions.