Term Paper: Earth Abides

Pages: 5 (1970 words)  ·  Bibliography Sources: 1+  ·  Level: College Senior  ·  Topic: Sociology  ·  Buy This Paper

Earth Abides

The title of the novel is very descriptive of the central theme of the work as a whole. "Earth abides" comes from Ecclesiastes 1:4 --"one generation goeth, and another cometh, but the earth abideth forever." The book deals with a viral plaque that wipes out most of humanity, leaving only a few scattered survivors who have the responsibility for rebuilding and reconstituting the human race. All the institutions and structures of normal society are destroyed due to the viral plague, with only a few basic amenities still functioning. The main protagonist and the other few survivors have to start, as it were, from 'ground zero'. "This is the Moment Zero, and we stand between two eras. Now the new life begins. Now we commence the Year One.'" (Stewart G.R. 1949 p.122)

Isherwood escapes exposure to the plague by being away at the time on ecological research. The name Isherwood is also related to the central theme of the novel as "Ish" means "man" in Hebrew. He finds himself completely alone when he returns to civilization after the virus has devastated humanity. Later he encounters other survivors and the interaction between them and their attempts to reconstitute the human race and reconstruct society make up the rest of this enthralling novel.

The novel has been lauded by modern reviewers and commentators as being extremely pertinent to the contemporary world in which we live. While the book was written more than fifty years ago, it contains themes and elements that are relevant to modern culture. For example, the use of the viral plague as the tool of apocalyptic destruction is very similar to the fear that 'abides' in modern society of bio-chemical weapons. This theme is also related to the prevalence of viral and bacterial disease that makes modern news - such as the HIV and Ebola viruses. Isherwood finds a woman with whom he feels that he can share his life with and proceeds with various attempts to begin human life on earth again.

The novel is remarkable for a number of reasons. Firstly, it deals with relevant issues that pertain to contemporary society today. Secondly the work does not follow the conventions or stereotypical patterns of apocalyptic fiction. In essence the novel is a comment and a sociological and philosophical analysis of contemporary society. For example, the issue of racial differences and inequality were very prominent in the time that the novel was written. It is therefore a comment on society and the possible future of modern society when the main character chooses a black women for his wife. The book also makes it clear that he does not choose her for her looks or any other superficial reason, but for her character, good sense and intelligence.

Ish chooses a strong willed, able, out-spoken, African-American woman to be his mate. She was not the first female Ish found, nor was she the best looking, but she had within her the strength to become the mother of a new civilization. Ish recognized this and fell in love with her quickly. And Ish was right, Em alone had the strength and courage to bear the first child in the small community that had grown around them. (Shade. D.D. 1998)

The book can also be seen as an in-depth analysis of the structure of society and the way that the individual human being relates to the social order - especially when that social order is destroyed and a new social order must be created. There are numerous tensions and failures in Isherwood's attempts to recreate society and the path towards a new society is filled with conflict. Unlike many novels in the genre that have been written after Earth Abides, the journey towards a new social order is also an analysis of human nature and the way it relates to social constraints and values.

In the novel most of the world and it social institutions have been devastated and are no longer existent. In effect the structure of society is no longer in place. Ish realizes this and chooses to promote social traditions and institutions that have a permanent value - such as the family.

The idea of the continuance of tradition is an important concept in the novel and the author uses metaphors and symbols to covey this idea.

For example, the use of the 4-pound, single-jack hammer is used as a symbol of the continuation and carrying forward of new traditions and values that the small community develops. The hammer is used to chisel the number of years on a large rock where they live and "...at the end of the book, when Ish has grown old and the younger men, his and other's children, sense that he is ready to pick a new leader for the community, they wait in a circle at his feet for Ish to pick the next leader by giving them the hammer." (ibid) in this way continuity and tradition is maintained in the new society.

The idea of the family plays a major part in the reconstruction of the society. However, the novel is realistic in that it also shows that the community and others are not always responsive to the ideas and values of the new societal values and institutions. The novel also deals realistically with the various practical problems that arise when attempting to establish the groundwork for a new society. An example of this is the way that Ish attempts to start agriculture, which results in many failed attempts at first. The novel also suggests that a reduced population also reduces the knowledge base required for the establishment and function of the institutions of the past. This situation results in the community being reduced to being hunter-gatherers for their subsistence.

Shriver p 38) the novel also clearly shows how natural powers and the "wilderness' of nature destroy the fragile creations of humans society.

Stewart Earth Abides details, through separate expository passages presented apart from the main narrative, the various ways in which natural forces over the years destroy the remnants of civilization upon which the survivors are initially dependent;

Rabkin, Greenberg, and Olander 13)

The novel also explores the personal relationships and interpersonal tensions that develop in the small community. This aspect also reflects on many sociological issues and theories relating to the foundations of human society and the way in which they are constructed. The second journey in the wasteland to find survivors results in the introduction of the character, Charlie. He is a threat and a potentially corrupting element for the community. Even though he is executed, his venereal disease - another viral infection - spreads throughout the community and infects Ish's son who is also the only member of his generation who has the ability to read.

Ish finds that the ideal of establishing a new community on earth which upholds the positive values of the past to be a daunting task. He finds that although he struggles to transmit and maintain the values and education, his attempts are regarded only as a "a kind of eccentric obsession."

Rabkin, Greenberg, and Olander 18) These attempts to educate the younger people in the community fail "... because the younger members of the tribe no longer perceive the rationalistic basis for this knowledge."(ibid) Ish eventually realizes that there are social and natural forces that cause a society to develop and evolve in a particular direction. " ' a tribe is like a child,; an ancient Ish says to his only surviving friend, Ezra. 'You can show it the way by which it should grow up, and perhaps you can direct it a little, but in the end the child will go his own way, and so will the tribe.' "(p. 288).

Rabkin, Greenberg, and Olander 18)

There are numerous social theories that can be effectively applied to an analysis of the novel. Possibly one that is most germane to the central theme of societal evolution is Durkheim's view of the nature of human society.

In simple terms, Durkheim wanted to explain the 'social glue' that seemed to bind individuals together as a society and the reason why people felt they were morally belonged together. For Durkheim, society took on the appearance ? To its individual members ? Of a 'thing'. That is, society appeared to be something that existed in its own right, over and above the ideas, hopes and desires of its individual members. ("A" Level Sociology Deviance and Social Control) in the novel the author explores the foundations of this idea of society in that the society has to be established anew from a state of disorder and the breakdown of the social cohesion which the values and the traditions offered in the past. It is this effort to create social forms of value that influences the actions of the central character in the book.

Durkheim also coined the term "anomie" which refers to the view that the loss of commonly held values in society usually leads… [END OF PREVIEW]

Socratic Reasoning to Construct an Interpretation Term Paper


Compare Wright's Poem Women to Child to John 15 Essay


Modern Rhetoric Essay


Technology and National Security Essay


Locke's Egalitarian Arguments Are Reconcilable With His Theory of Property Term Paper


View 169 other related papers  >>

Cite This Term Paper:

APA Format

Earth Abides.  (2005, June 10).  Retrieved August 19, 2019, from https://www.essaytown.com/subjects/paper/earth-abides/14262

MLA Format

"Earth Abides."  10 June 2005.  Web.  19 August 2019. <https://www.essaytown.com/subjects/paper/earth-abides/14262>.

Chicago Format

"Earth Abides."  Essaytown.com.  June 10, 2005.  Accessed August 19, 2019.
https://www.essaytown.com/subjects/paper/earth-abides/14262.