Earth Abides - Part 1: Chapters 1 and 2 Summary & Analysis

This Study Guide consists of approximately 47 pages of chapter summaries, quotes, character analysis, themes, and more - everything you need to sharpen your knowledge of Earth Abides.
This section contains 1,121 words
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Part 1: Chapters 1 and 2 Summary

Isherwood Williams, a college student working on his thesis, is in the Black Creek Area when he finds an old miner's hammer and is bitten by a rattlesnake. He's not aware of the fact that the "acting president" of the United State has suspended governmental operations and that burials at sea in California have now been abandoned. He's not overly concerned about the snakebite, treats himself with a snakebite kit to remove as much of the poison as possible, and spends the following days suffering through fever and becomes sick enough to worry that he might die. He later isn't certain how much of his illness is the snakebite and how much is some strange infection. One night, two men step into the door and he cries out that he's sick. They immediately leave though he doesn't yet know that they're afraid of the plague that has wiped out the majority of people.

He soon begins to recover and takes his car down to an area store called Johnson's. There's no one there but the gas pumps work and the door is open. Ish pumps some gas, writes a check for the correct amount and heads on to his home city of San Francisco. On the way, he notes that there's little traffic and he sees a dead body on the side of the road. He rushes to the next town to report the death but finds no one there either. However, he does see a newspaper headline, "Crisis Acute." He uses the hammer he'd found to break open a door and take the newspaper. It's a single sheet and offers estimates that 25 to 35 percent of the population has died due to the virus. He stops at a fine home and breaks in, turning the dial of a radio and finding no stations. He drives on toward home and notes that there should be traffic, but there isn't. At one town, there's a strong smell of decaying corpses. He arrives home to find his parents gone but the house in good order. The electricity and water works and he considers that he might become of all the things man has built.

The dogs that are penned up are the first to die, often of thirst. Those that are outdoors or are able to break out learn to hunt or die. The cats had "known little more than five thousand years of man's domination and had always accepted it with reservations." Those not penned indoors quickly take to the streets where they revert to their hunting ways without much difficulty. Those that venture outside the city are often killed by their larger cousins.

As Ish begins his exploration of the surrounding city, he discovers that there were some looters and disarray at the end of the crisis. He finds one man hanging from a telephone pole with a placard that reads, "looter." He notes that the stores that were vandalized were often liquor stores, followed closely by jewelry stores and banks as if people were either seeking the comfort of the liquor or placing trust in the valuables of the old days. Ish locates a drunkard and notes that his eyes had "seen too much." The man died a short time later having told Ish only that his name was Barlowe. He meets an obviously promiscuous young girl with a man who Ish quickly decides is dangerous. It seems this is the first time he's considered that not all survivors are going to be honorable, trustworthy people. He sees another young girl who runs and hides and an older man who is hoarding useless items and seems on the verge of madness.

As Ish leaves the city, he finds a green coupe on the Bay Bride with the registration to John S. Robertson taped to the steering wheel. The owner is gone and the sight of the car somehow haunts Ish until his dying day. Ish guesses that the man might have jumped to his death and the idea of the Second Kill emerges. He believes that there will be people who commit suicide, die of causes that would easily have been cured in the earlier days or die at the hands of those who are insane or just mean. He wonders if mankind will survive and says finding the answer to that question gives him the will to go on. Ish has always preferred solitary pursuits and now believes that he's better prepared for the future because of it. With the idea that the survivors aren't what he'd hoped for, he plans to go in search of a surviving community.

Part 1: Chapters 1 and 2 Analysis

Just before being bitten by the snake, Ish finds a "single jack," a type of hammer used by miners in years past. That hammer would become an important piece of Ish's life and the life of his family for generations to come.

It's interesting that Ish is almost immediately concerned with what will become of civilization. He's almost too accepting, turning away from himself and his own role in this situation to observer. He seems to want only to look at what's going on around him and to analyze. That continues to be his attitude for the years to come. It's also interesting to note that many of the utilities are so automated that they continue to operate even without man's help. The electricity continues for months and the water for years. Ish will even pick up the phone, discover a dial tone but find there's simply no one to call.

In his lonely despair, Ish tries signaling with a light: the universally recognized SOS. After a particularly lonely frightening night, he decides that he has to find other survivors - any survivors. He will soon change his mind and decide that he's not interesting in a single survivor but wants to find a group. He's also soon to be discouraged at the type of people he finds. He seems to be intent on searching for intellectuals and skilled people who will be ready to return civilization to its state before the virus.

There's an interesting parallel between the animals and people. The purebred dogs and horses that were pampered and cared for by their humans were the least able to survive. Only those that were able to find ways to fend for themselves or that were lucky enough to have people remaining were to survive. Ish at one time notes that his oldest daughter, Mary, is stolid. While he has admired intellect over that type of person, he admits that his daughter may very well be the type of person who does best in the new culture.

This section contains 1,121 words
(approx. 3 pages at 400 words per page)
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