Earth Abides - Part 2: Chapters 3 through 5 Summary & Analysis

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Part 2: Chapters 3 through 5 Summary

Work on the well and the outhouses progresses slowly but the plans for the trip go quickly. It's decided that they need a vehicle and Ish looks for a jeep. He finds a new one but then finds some used one he believes to be better equipped for the roads they're likely to cover. He and the boys change the oil, add water and he brings a new battery to the vehicle, eventually coaxing it to start. The next problem is tires. All the tires on all the vehicles are flat and many of those standing in racks are flat. Ish, Richard and Robert work for hours changing the first tire and then Joey tells Ish that he wants to show him something. Ish says he's tired but acquiesces to the boy's insistence. Joey points out a spare tire mounted on the back of another jeep and suggests that be used instead. Ish is proud of his son's thinking ability and leaves Robert and Richard to finish the task while he takes Joey to the university library.

There, Joey is in awe of all the books. He immediately grasps the idea Ish has held all these years - that all the knowledge of man is inside those books. He asks Ish if he could read them and Ish tells him to help himself, but to always put them back. Joey then asks if he might fix the electricity with the knowledge of those books and Ish realizes that his son is rushing into the trap he's been in all those years and urges him to go slowly.

Ish drives home the jeep though he has a blowout just before reaching home. He toots the horn but no one comes outside except his daughter, Mary. She says that everyone is on the hillside, "bull dodging."

Ish spends time with Richard and Robert, teaching them some basic mechanical skills with the idea that they could patch up the jeep or make some other vehicle work if they were to have trouble. He also talks to them about maps though they have no concept of state lines and question the meaning of "Arizona." They leave with instructions and equipment. At home, the well is completed and the families adapt to a manual pump for water. At night, Ish finds himself in the deepest worries but during the day is typically optimistic of the boys' good sense and their safe return.

Ish continues to try to teach the children the basics of reading and writing with some arithmetic. He says it's to hold to the basics of civilization. He tries everything to make them want to learn but the desire is simply not there. One day, some of the older boys return from a walk with walnuts, which they'd never seen before. Ish is quick to seize the opportunity to teach on any topic and he tries to break the nuts with bricks but finds it impossible. He asks one of the children to hand him the hammer. The child is frozen in what seems to be fear. Ish asks another and suddenly realizes that the children are totally quiet. Finally, Joey rises and gets the hammer. It's only then that Ish realizes that the children have attached some sort of supernatural power to the hammer. Because Ish takes it along on the special occasion of the annual carving of the year in the stone, they believe it's something special.

Ish, carefully analyzing the situation, admits that he and the other adults have confirmed and even institutionalized some of the superstitions and taboos. He'd beaten two of the boys for destroying books. He and the others had made it clear that Evie was not to be touched sexually by any of the boys. They'd also enforced the idea of fidelity, fearing an occasion of fighting over that situation.

While Ish puzzles over how to address this issue, he continues to watch Joey and to be amazed at the child's intellect. Ish is careful to calculate whether he does want the children to view him as some sort of god and to view Joey as something special. One day, he asks the children who made the world. They answer that the Americans made it and that Americans are the "old people." Ish says that he is an American and immediately knows that, though he was trying to say that there's nothing supernatural about being an American, he'd implied that he himself was something more than a mere man. He was American!

Part 2: Chapters 3 through 5 Analysis

To Ish, the fact that the "national pastime" has become "bull dodging" is almost as unpleasant as his concept of the loss of civilization. He notes that two of the boys are playing as "halfbacks," doubtless as a part of an overheard conversation about football. It's interesting that none of the sports from the previous generation have come back. It seems that the families would have, at some point, been playing backyard baseball or football, but there's no mention of any sport or playtime of this type. Ish notes that there are few differences between work time and playtime and that it's difficult for even the adults to stay committed to a necessary task, such as digging the well.

Ish begins to worry the idea of the superstitions. He says that children before the plague would also have specific fears and superstitions but that they were eventually exposed to older children who put those into context. These children have no one who will do that except for the adults. Joey, who has always been set somewhat apart among the children, is now even more so because of his willingness and his ability to carry the hammer to his father. It seems that Ish has become something of a god in the eyes of the children and that Joey has become the chosen one. Ish will even admit that Joey himself may have had a role in making this true in the minds of the other children in order to exalt himself.

This section contains 1,020 words
(approx. 3 pages at 400 words per page)
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