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Earth Abides Themes

This Study Guide consists of approximately 45 pages of chapter summaries, quotes, character analysis, themes, and more - everything you need to sharpen your knowledge of Earth Abides.
This section contains 1,176 words
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Coming of Age

Ish is a man who believes highly in intellect and places a great deal of trust in traditional knowledge and learning. In some ways, that makes him highly ill-equipped to deal with his current situation. However, he is able to look at things rationally and is a trained observer - both traits in his favor. It simply takes him a while to come to the point that he's able to live in his new world.

Ish wants to teach the young people of his Tribe to form a community. He believes that the basics of knowledge including reading will help his Tribe survive the coming years. Through it all, Ish learns that not all worthwhile people are highly educated or even intellectual. He comes to understand that those who have certain skills and certain personalities are much more able to move comfortably into the new age. Through all this, Ish continues to hold to the belief that the only true advancement is the return of civilization as he knew it before the virus attack. In this way, Ish - as a very young man in his twenties and thirties - resembles the old timers of seventy or eighty who talk of the "good old days." Ish wants that back more than he wants to make the best of the life he's living. It seems that his own coming of age is linked closely with the death of his youngest son, Joey. On Joey, Ish had pinned all his hopes for a return to civilization. Joey was intellectual, read well and understood concepts. Ish believes that in this child, a rebirth of civilization will occur. He loves Joey more than his other children because of the intellectual connection. Upon Joey's death, Ish sinks into despair but soon realizes that Joey would have spent his life as unhappily as he, Ish, had done. Ish makes the decision to move ahead in whatever way he could help his people rather than holding to the desire to move backward, to a time when he was happy. Though he continues to occasionally long for those days of civilization, he does find himself coming of age as a grown man with children and grandchildren of his own.

The Ability to Adapt

Isherwood Williams was a young man when he was confronted with the reality that everyone he knew was gone. He seems to quickly accept the fact that the greater portion of the population is gone and sets himself up to observe what will happen next. As he realizes that there are no doctors and no hospitals left, he is suddenly overwhelmed by the idea that even a simple injury could result in death. He walks and drives carefully until he realizes what he's doing. He promises to stop the over-cautious actions and soon finds himself reveling in the feel of driving eighty miles per hour on abandoned roads with no traffic.

Ish is a person who would have obeyed laws prior to the Great Catastrophe. He finds it difficult to smash in a window to get a newspaper or to even run a traffic light. It takes time before these become second nature to him. It's much later that Ish, Em, George and Ezra are faced with a real threat in the form of a man named Charlie. As they try to decide what to do about it, Em says that laws no longer exist and that it's their responsibility to keep their children safe. The four all vote that the threat should be put to death and the sentence is carried out by hanging the man.

As the children begin to age, the decision is made to allow marriages younger than would previously have been accepted. The adults realize that there's the need to have the Tribe grow in number and that teaching fidelity from the beginning is in the best interests of the community as a whole. The issue of what knowledge is important is another area in which Ish adapted his own thinking, though slowly. He wanted to teach the children to read, thinking that they would always have the vast store of knowledge from the books of the library to help them through any crisis. Then he realizes that many of the books are simply not applicable in the current situation and that other kinds of knowledge are more important. He permanently dismisses school and sets out to teach the children how to make and use a bow and arrow. That lesson carries over and by the fourth generation, the young men use bow and arrows exclusively.

Some adaptations seem easy. For example, the Tribe had always had running water. The water plants were automated to the point that the water continues to flow for decades. On the day it stops, the Tribe simply begins to bring water from nearby springs, digs a well and constructs outhouses.

The Need for Companionship

When Ish is certain of at least the basic details of the Great Catastrophe, he goes home hoping to find his parents. They aren't there and never return. Ish drives around town, honking his horn in hopes of finding others. What he finds are a drunk who soon dies of alcohol poisoning, a mean-looking man and a woman who seems to be a prostitute, and a girl who runs away at the first sight of him. Ish considers that he could continue to search for survivors but that he doesn't really want to settle in with any of those that he's found so far. He sets out for a trip to the east and along the way encounters a dog. He first tells her to go away but then accepts her companionship and it's Princess - as she's come to be known - who teaches Ish to stop being so afraid and start living again.

Ish finds several people along his travels but dismisses all of them. When he's back home in San Francisco, he sees that there's a light from a house some distance away. He goes there and meets Em. The two of them settle in together. Em is some ten years his senior, and Ish admits that she's not the intellectual person he'd have expected to place his faith in. However, with the need for companionship, Ish does make a connection with Em and even agrees that they should have children.

Over the years, visitors stop in, and Em and Ish are never sad to see them leave. The exception is Ezra and when he returns with two wives, he's welcomed into the community. When two of the boys, Robert and Richard, go on a trip they return with a man named Charlie who brings typhoid to the community leaving five dead. It's this that makes the community wary, and no others are allowed near for some time. Eventually, it's the need for new blood and the fact that some of the young men have no wives that prompts the Tribe to allow the merge of another small band.

This section contains 1,176 words
(approx. 3 pages at 400 words per page)
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