George R. Stewart definitely created a staple in the post-apocalyptic gene with Earth Abides. The story follows a man, Ish, through his observations and interactions after the “Great Disaster” kills almost all of human population. Ish struggles throughout the novel with the importance of preserving humanity, as he once knew it. Stewart uses Ish (in an unflattering light) to make the reader question what is truly important once everyone and everything you once knew is gone.
Ish becomes a very difficult character to root for or side with throughout the novel. It seems that Stewart wrote him this way to show a sort of transformation. Ish has an idea and a plan to continue and pass on the “old” way of civilization. He is continuously worrying about the future and not focusing on the present. Ish sees himself as far more superior to those around him. His inner monologue is sometimes hard to stomach. His racism and sexism rears it’s head more than one would like. He patronizes the woman, even his own loving wife, Em. He thinks time and time again about their “stupidity” and he takes pity on them. His ego only grows larger throughout the book as he is seen as the leader and later on the “god” of the Tribe. Although, he is humbled by Em at times, Ish never fails to mention her lack of intellect. He favors his young son, Joey, after he showed a shared interest in reading. Ish imminently casts out his other children and spends most of his time intellectually grooming Joey. He saw himself in Joey and began to believe he was the “chosen one”. As a smart man, Ish has a hard time coming to grips with the world they now live in. It is only after Joey dies of an illness that Ish begins to understand what needs to be done. Literature and history are important but they needed to prepare for when the old civilization supplies was gone. They needed to adapt to the new world. They needed to go back to basics.
It was hard for Ish to release the part of humanity that he identified with and clung to. He worshiped the university library and gave strict instructions to the children to respect it in hopes that it would one day be of use again. It housed all of the information and history that Ish didn’t want to lose. As the years moved on Ish detached himself from his surrounds. The Tribe grew and customs changed around him. Him and his hammer were seen as a god from the old times. In the end, he let go and accepted that he was the end, the last American.