Earth Abides - Part 1: Chapters 3 through 5 Summary & Analysis

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Part 1: Chapters 3 through 5 Summary

Ish is suddenly aware that a simple injury that would have been easily treatable by doctors before the virus could now be fatal. He worries continually as he prepares for his trip. He finds a serviceable station wagon and is loading it with supplies when he encounters a dog. This one doesn't seem on the verge of reverting to the pack mentality but rubs against his legs and seems to beg to be petted. He tells her to "go away," but she puts her head on her paws and he laughs, earning him a display of tail wagging. He decides that he has a dog whether he'd wanted one or not, then changes his mind to say that the dog has him. He begins a cross-country trip, traveling carefully and continuing to worry about an accident. When he reaches the desert, he plans carefully for the crossing though he's beginning to berate himself for the overly cautious attitude. He starts the crossing in the evening to avoid the heat and is well into the desert when the dog begins to whine to be allowed out. He stops and she immediately takes off after a rabbit. He's angry with her for putting him in what he perceives to be additional danger by being stopped in the middle of the desert, and then suddenly decides that he has to stop with the caution. He resolves that he will "live without fear." As the dog returns, he calls her a "princess" for expecting him to bow to her whims and decides that will be her name. He camps that night rather than pushing on and then drives the abandoned roads fast, thrilling in the speed.

He stops along the way at motels and usually has amenities such as running water, electricity and gas. He can find all the food he wants and continues into Arkansas. He finds a well-tended garden and stops to discover three Negroes, living in the house one of them had before the virus attack and continuing to grow their own crops, even cotton, and are raising animals. He notes that they are reticent with him in the typical way of Negroes and that they seem relieved when he leaves. He ambles along and often forages from the crops that are planted along the way. As he makes his way east, he realizes that he's almost to New York.

In New York City, Ish wanders about searching for survivors. He notes that he'd always unconsciously thought this would be the place to find a community of people if any survived. He travels throughout the city, finding no one and noting the sheer magnitude of quiet. He wanders through Central Park with the same results and notes that the park will soon give way to brush and undergrowth. He does find a man named Milt Abrams, a former jewelry storeowner. There is a woman with him named Ann who is obviously not his wife and that fact seems to embarrass Milt. Ann has worked only as a "lark" at a perfume counter in a large department store. The two of them seem happy, spending their days at cards and drinking somewhat more than would have likely been proper in society before the virus. Neither knows how to drive and they have no inclination to leave New York. They have everything they need within walking distance and encourage Ish to stay. He remains for a few days, playing cards, before heading back toward California. He worries what will happen to the older couple when the harsh winter arrives.

As Ish heads home, he's going at a leisurely pace and stops frequently to forage fruit and vegetables. He notes that the chickens and ducks seem to have disappeared, likely the victims of the predators no longer held at bay by the hunters. He fishes sometimes, as well. Headed back into California, he encounters wildfires with no one to combat them and is forced to detour. He arrives home at San Lupo Drive to find the note he'd left his parents untouched.

He settles into a routine of scavenging for food from area groceries and notes that bread and flour are already inedible because of mice and weevils. He finds himself occasionally in a state of apathy and forces activity at those times. On one of his walks, he encounters a pack of dogs and begins to carry a firearm at all times. Then ants invade in droves and though he sprays continually, he's unable to abate the flood. One day, they simply disappear. He reasons that they'd overpopulated because of the abundant food supply but died out when the food became short.

Part 1: Chapters 3 through 5 Analysis

In Memphis, he stays a few days and feels an intense dissatisfaction that he eventually identifies as boredom. He has brought along guns and later kills a calf and then its mother, butchering the calf for its liver and eating that. He seems to be longing for the kind of life the Negroes in Arkansas have - of taking care of themselves rather than scavenging on the leavings of civilization. This is a desire that never leaves Ish.

While the animals are being forced to adapt, the land is also quickly adapting. The weeds are taking over where crops once grew and exotic plants that depended on people to keep the weeds at bay lose their battles. Larger animals, such as cows, begin to take down fences to gain access to the better grazing of the cultivated fields that are now giving way to weeds. Another victim of the virus attack is parasites that had depended on human hosts. The writer notes that though some may not be saddened at the death of man, the parasites will truly mourn.

It's interesting to note that Ann and Milt have moved themselves into a nice apartment on Riverside Drive, and Ish says it's likely better than either of them had lived in before. By contrast, the Negroes in Arkansas still live in a shack that was the home of the woman before the catastrophe. They have little furniture and are raising what they need to survive whereas Milt and Ann are scavenging on the items stored up in the city around them. Later, Ish seems to respect the Negroes way of life more than that of Milt and Ann but it's much later that he says that the Negroes are simply doing what they've done for many years.

He visits the library and reads Swiss Family Robinson and Robinson Crusoe, though he finds the stories trite and meaningless in his current situation. He seems to still be waiting for something and living as a mere observer but he is at least living. It's interesting to note that Ish believes he has all he needs as there are so many local places to scavenge food and supplies. It's not until he's looking forward to the next generations that he begins to worry that the lifestyle isn't a good choice.

This section contains 1,178 words
(approx. 3 pages at 400 words per page)
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