Earth Abides - Part 2: Chapters 8 through 11 Summary & Analysis

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Part 2: Chapters 8 through 11 Summary

They hanged and buried Charlie and move on with life, though each of them apparently carries the burden of having made the decision. Later, Ish and Joey look over the box of corn kernels brought back by Robert and Richard. Ish explains that they didn't try to raise anything for many years and that there were now no usable seeds. He says that they'll now find a spot and raise corn. They parch two dozen kernels and even Ish admits that it's not very good. Corn and wheat, like other cultivated plants, are being pushed out of the places they were once raised by the more hardy weeds.

About a week later, Robert takes to his bed, ill with fever. Ish doctors with sulfa drugs but Robert gets worse. Soon Joey and Josey are also ill, and there's a general epidemic among the group. It's soon decided that it must be typhoid, spread by the flies that congregate in the outhouses, and that Charlie was obviously the carrier. Some fear that they've prompted the wrath of God for killing Charlie and Em continues to dispute that theory. Five of the community members die during the weeks of the epidemic, including Joey. Ish is heartbroken and says that it's unfair that the "chosen one," "child of promise," should die.

Those who had been ill continue to recover and Ish wonders at the strength of Em. At one point she does tell him that she's tired of pouring out her own strength to shore up others. When he suggests that perhaps they are being punished, she says that there's no way God would set up rules of which they knew nothing and them punish them for not following those rules. When they're all up and around, they plan a funeral service of sorts for the dead. Ezra leads it and talks not of hope for an afterlife but of each of those who died. He stretches out the service until the moment the sun slides over the mountain, bathing their community in light. Ish says that it was just a trick, but that it was effective.

Ish, needing to be alone with his grief, takes a walk and finds himself at the university library. He looks through the books with his typical sense that everything needed to restore civilization is in the building. Then he picks up a book about climatology and notes that the last person to check out that book was Isherwood Williams. It takes him a second to realize that's his name and then he notes that the book simply no longer applies to their world. He then realizes that Joey, so much like his father, would never have been happy and would have - as Ish had done - struggled and still failed in what he wanted to accomplish. As Ish is sitting on the library steps, he takes his hammer and pounds off a chip of granite. He notes that it's pure vandalism but he doesn't stop. He also doesn't replace the board that he's carefully used to ensure that rats and rain don't gain entrance to the building over all the years. He suddenly decides that he's been trying to accomplish the wrong things.

The next morning, the children assemble in the living room waiting for school. Ish notes that he'd made a decision and that he felt no pain in it. He tells them that there won't be school anymore. They're quiet at first but become noisy, happy children the moment they're out the door. Later, he cuts a hardy sprout from a lemon tree and sets to work carving a bow using nothing but his pocketknife. The children are interested and check on his progress often. He braids a cord from calf hide and then fashions a blunt-ended arrow. When he shoots the first time, the arrow sails through the air and sticks in the ground. The children are hooked and soon pick up the craft, all making their own bows and arrows. One day, his daughter comes to him with the news that her own arrows never go as far as her brother's. Ish suggests she use pinion feathers and the arrow-making goes to another level. Soon, Ish's son Walt returns home with a rabbit he killed with his own bow and arrow. Ish later teaches them to start a fire without matches.

The children soon loose interest in the bows and arrows but Ish knows that they'll occasionally return to play games with them and that he's done what he set out to do. As they prepare to carve the next date into the stone, they discuss what to call it. Thinking back on Charlie, the boys' trip, the death of five of their own people and the bows and arrows, there are several options. It's Ezra who says no name is sufficient and for the first time, the name it simply Year Twenty-Two.

Part 2: Chapters 8 through 11 Analysis

There's little description of Charlie's death except that he had "cursed obscenely" when confronted by Ish and the boys' rifles, and that George had created the noose and set up the ladder. It's interesting to note that they did not spare the young men of the second generation from the task. Some of the older generation had been vaccinated against typhoid but not all were spared a bout with the disease even then. This, like other rare diseases that had come along to the members of Ish's tribe, was brought from the outside. Those in the community suffered nothing except measles and an occasional sore throat. This encounter will make the people more wary and they'll eliminate contact with the outside world because of it. Of note, there will come a time when they allow a small group to merge with their tribe and those will contract the measles.

Ish, though he'd been concerned about the superstitions attached to the hammer, finds that he's often carrying it. As Ezra talks of Joey, the children glance at Ish as if to see whether he'll wave the hammer and bring the little boy back to life. He later goes for a walk and takes the hammer along. He considers that he might throw it in the bay to put an end to the nonsense, but doesn't.

Ish notes a changing attitude when he encounters a rattlesnake near the university. He says that man once had complete dominion and would have killed the rattlesnake simply because of that. Now, there's no need because man can make little impact on the number of rattlesnakes. Though they continue to kill those snakes that come close to their homes, they live with nature rather than in dominion over it. Though Ish sees this now in this case, he'll later wonder about his great-grandsons taking a detour to avoid a large cat.

It's interesting to note that an observation from the italicized text notes that man created civilization but that he then sought ways to flee from it. In addition, all the legends "look back toward some golden day of simplicity." As civilization grew, men gave up their days of berry-picking and fishing, turning instead to the drudgery of work, but they always sought to escape.

In these two feats, Ish hopes that he's saved his children and grandchildren the need to revert to the cavemen days. It seems he's suddenly given up the idea of raising engineers and doctors who'll return civilization to its former state and has moved on to practical matters. He's succeeded and he'll later talk to his great-grandson who says that he only hunts with a bow and arrow because rifles are too inconsistent.

This section contains 1,287 words
(approx. 4 pages at 400 words per page)
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