On The Beach by Nevil Shute Essay

On The Beach by Nevil Shute Essay

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In Nevil Shute’s On the Beach, the story of the last days of the lives of the last humans on Earth is told. Victims of Global-Thermonuclear war, which they took no part in, they are aware of the massive radiation cloud drifting south towards Australia. The main focus of the novel is not the plot, but the characters, who they become and what they do in their last days. Two such characters are John Osborne, a scientist studying the effects of the radiation, and Mary Holmes, a Navy-wife and recent mother. Through the course of the novel, though there is little interaction between the two, it becomes apparent that they are foils for each other, portraying near opposite reactions to the impending end.
John Osborne, a young scientist working to predict the severity and the time of the radiation cloud, faces the truth of the situation on a daily basis and has accepted it with little difficulty compared to other characters, including one of his peers who never accepted it and tried to prove the winds would not blow the cloud down to the southern hemisphere, despite all evidence contrary. By living the truth and accepting what he’ll have to do when the time comes, John Osborne becomes the happiest of the characters in the novel, though he is alone in his suicide, not going to his still-living mother or his distant relative Moira for the companionship of family, participating in debauchery, creaking the rules of the old world, or turning to alcohol or drugs for chemical euphoria. Instead, he finds his happiness in achieving his dreams.
Before the world was given its death sentence, John Osborne was essentially a coward. He never did anything outside of his narrow comfort zone and let his fears dictate his life, if it could be called livi...

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...eater contrast to the reader. The distinction offered between them allows the reader to understand the situation the last people on Earth are in. Though the story tells a tale warning against the use of nuclear weapons, this is not the true message. The meaning of story is the inevitability of death and living life with the knowledge of death. As mortal creatures, we do this daily, either living with the constant knowledge of our deaths weighing over us, or ignoring the facts, because not seeing is easier. People must find a middle ground somewhere, passively aware of our own mortality and the consequences brought on by it. In fact, the theme could be boiled down to two words: be aware. Nevil Shute is warning that, unlike Mary, the reader should not place themselves into ignorant denial, but should live their life aware.

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On the Beach, Nevil Shute 1957

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