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

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Part 3: Chapters 1 through 3 Summary

One day a young man stands before Ish. When Ish asks the young man's name, he says, "Jack." Ish has a son named John who was called Jack but knows this man is not his son and says so. Jack says John is his grandfather, meaning that Ish is this young man's great-grandfather. Jack shows Ish an arrow and explains that he uses only the bow and arrow for hunting because the rifle is unreliable. He also proudly notes that anyone can point a gun but the bow takes skill. Ish notes that the arrows have a sharp point and he soon discovers that the arrowheads are made from pennies, dimes and quarters, though nickels are too thick and require a lot of word for shaping. Ish notes that he helped create the culture that encouraged the making of bows and arrows and that his own offspring had skipped a step in the process, fashioning metal for the arrowheads.

Ish wakes very early one morning to the smell of smoke but drifts back to sleep. He's jerked awake later by Jack with the news that there's a fire almost to the house. They rush outside where two other young men were waiting and Ish suddenly realizes he doesn't have the hammer. He says so and Jack rushes away though Ish screams for him to leave the hammer. He gets it with only minor injuries to himself and the four of them rush away toward the rocks where Ish feels they'll be safe from the raging fire. They are and it's soon clear enough for one of the young men to make his way for some water. Later still, they all go to a place alongside a stream that was untouched by the fire and plan to spend the night. Ish realizes that he's on the university campus very near the library. He wonders if he'll have nightmares about the books that he's abandoned.

The next morning, the young men bring back meat they've killed with their arrows for breakfast. Another member of the tribe catches up to them and tells them that they were to go to a particular place where the tribe had decided to settle. The men were "inclined to argue" because they had no say in the decision but grant that what the tribe decides is binding. They begin that direction, now carrying Ish and teasing him that he weighs so little. He is glad that he's not a burden and occasionally rouses himself to take note of his surroundings. The young men travel by direction though Ish would have known the street names instead. When they encounter a road sign, Ish has trouble forming the words in his mind. They soon see a lion and the boys back away from it without making any attack. They agree that the lion is also not going to attack and simply detour. Ish wonders that they don't feel the need to dominate, seeming to forget his own encounter with the rattlesnake outside the university library those many years before.

Ish soon realizes they're approaching the Bay Bridge. He recalls the green coupe he'd seen there right after the Great Catastrophe and that he'd wondered about the owner. The bridge still stands though there are rusty spots and some sections of concrete have given way. Suddenly, Ish finds himself leaning against something hard and two of the boys are chaffing his hands. He realizes that he must have had a seizure, perhaps a heart attack or a stroke. He knows without a doubt that the end of his life is upon him and that the boys know it as well. They are frightened and though they seem to be talking, Ish can't hear them. They seem insistent on some point and Ish suddenly realizes that they want him to choose one of them to carry the hammer. He points to his great-grandson, Jack. Ish notes a pang of sorrow for Jack as he lifts the hammer, seemingly heavier than a single-jack should have been. The boys, with the matter of the inheritance settled, seem relieved.

He thinks back over his life - his mother, Em, Ezra, Joey and all the others who had gone before him. He fixes his eyes upon the hills as the thing above all others that remains unchanging. He knows that the young men will soon bury him and notes that, "Men go and come, but earth abides."

Part 3: Chapters 1 through 3 Analysis

Ish notes that Jack says the red arrowheads are best for shooting cattle and lions and the white are for deer and game. Ish wants to argue that there's no difference in the arrowheads themselves and that it's superstition to think so. After considering it, he concludes that if that thought gives the hunter more confidence, it's an acceptable belief. Ish asks Jack if he's happy and Jack seems to consider. He then says that he is happy because "things are as they are and I am part of them." Ish ponders that and when he next rouses himself, Jack is gone.

Ish's relationship with his great-grandson, Jack, is not that different from what often happens in cultures everywhere - one child, of his volition, bonds more strongly with an older relative than all the others. In this case, Ish notes that Jack seems intelligent and he almost tries to argue him into seeing reason regarding the arrow points but says that reason is likely a luxury for civilization. He realizes that making this young man aware of that reason would only set him uncomfortably apart from his peers. Ish notes that he'd known it was only a matter of time before there was a major fire because the grasses, weeds and brush had grown unchecked all over the region. Again, this was a case of knowing what could happen but taking no action.

Ish sees a crimson flower and reaches out for it. He notes that the world has taken back the shades of the earth - browns and blues and greens. He says that there was once lots of red in the world and that he hadn't really noticed how much of it was gone until that moment.

At one point, Ish sees that the young men are talking to him but he can't hear. He tries to talk to them but realizes that he has no control over his speech. He momentarily panics, thinking that he can't live a life without being able to communicate with others. Even then, with his life ending, Ish thinks that there's no one who could even read his writing and that without the ability to talk life would be unbearable.

This section contains 1,124 words
(approx. 3 pages at 400 words per page)
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