George Stewart’s Biographer Praises Reviews of Earth Abides

Yesterday Donald Scott mentioned our class and this blog in a lovely post on his own blog dedicated to George R. Stewart. He’s been reading your reviews of Earth Abides, and — you should be proud to know — he’s found your perspectives to be original and exciting:

I’ve begun reading the student essays.  It’s very satisfying to see young people rediscovering GRS and his work, especially Earth Abides.  The authors have given me some new perspectives on the book, from the experience of the inhabitants of the early third millennium.

Earth Abides site

Just yesterday I found this terrific website dedicated to George R. Stewart and Earth Abides. It’s maintained by Donald Scott, who wrote a biography of Stewart that was published two years ago. A specific post many of you will be interested in is EARTH ABIDES: the influence of a work, which details the book’s legacy and lasting influence:

ishs-hammer1Stewart’s novel is a work of true speculative science fiction. It is not in any way the type of space opera popular in those days, but a work of fiction based on solid science and informed speculation. Yet the book has always been considered “science fiction” and is usually shelved in the science fiction sections of bookstores. That may seem to demean the high literary quality of Earth Abides, but it is one reason the book has never been out of print. Science fiction readers are, in the literal sense, “fans” – that is “fanatics” – for their type of literature. They deserve great credit for not only buying and reading the book, but for recommending it to others.

The painting of Ish’s hammer is by the painter Steve Williams (link to his website).

“Men go and come, but the earth abides”

I really enjoyed this book! Although it was a long read, Earth Abides by George R. Stewart was very entertaining. Stewart questions ideologies about social standards including companionship, education, religion, civilization, leadership, and maintaining ethical beliefs. The plague the kills off most of humanity, and those left are left to do whatever they wish.

We are able to follow Ish as he grows, and see the choices he must make on a daily base. What he wants for not only his children, but also humanity. He hopes that civilization will return to what it was before, that the future will be like the past again. This reminded me of a teaching (I’m going to butcher it:/) :trying to convince a baby that they will need to walk is pointless, because they must crawl first. The baby cannot understand this, until they have experienced the process. The entire time Ish is attempting to tech his children to read and about religion, they FIRST needed to learn the basics of surviving, like hunting and making a fire without matches.

I watch the tv show “the walking dead”. I saw many similarities, (but no “walkers”) in scavenging, and the hope to rebuild civilization. However in both and many other apocalyptic stories, that the human race severely damaged, and “men go and come, but the earth abides”.

Earth Abides, Humanity Does Not

I think in this day and age, people get a certain idea in their heads when they hear the phrase “Post-Apocalyptic Fiction,” because that term in literature has a much different connotation today than it did 30 or 40 years ago. Today it’s primarily associated with things like The Hunger Games, or Divergent or even The Maze Runner (whatever that is). If you asked that question 30 years ago, the immediate response would be something akin to I Am Legend, or The Stand, which arguably paved the way for the post-apocalyptic fiction of today. I find it interesting how influential The Stand is, primarily because it seems to have been influenced heavily by Earth Abides.

Prior to this class I had never even heard of The Earth Abides, and it was relatively hard to track down on Amazon, but now having read it, I see its influence all over The Stand, and by extension many other novels which followed in its footsteps. I Am Legend as well, probably more so, but having not read I am Legend I cannot really comment. Throughout the novel, Stewart makes significant commentary on the human condition in the absence of human society. He shows us a very bleak picture of the human race practically tearing itself apart in the face of adversity. He shows us that when truly faced with the advent of our extinction, we do not face it with dignity.

The ultimate commentary that Stewart is making with Earth Abides is that as humans we think ourselves more important than we truly are. The Earth has existed long before the dawn of Homo sapiens, and will continue to spin long after we’re gone (hence the title). Stewart even says within the novel, “As for man, there is little reason to think that he can in the long run escape the fate of other creatures, and if there is a biological law of flux and reflux, his situation is now a highly perilous one. During ten thousand years his numbers have been on the upgrade in spite of wars, pestilences, and famines. This increase in population has become more and more rapid. Biologically, man has for too long a time been rolling an uninterrupted run of sevens.” He’s basically saying that we’ve had it too good for too long and that we’ve been doing nothing but bragging about it, and now the chickens are coming home to roost. The Earth Abides, but humanity does not, and most probably never will as far as Stewart is concerned.

Ish: The Last Arrogant American

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.



Tough Questions for the Modern Reader & A Demand for a Greener Machine

In his 1949 novel Earth Abides, George R. Stewart presents a deep and well developed speculation about what would happen to humanity if ever a worldwide catastrophe were to cancel civilization. The tale follows Isherwood Williams, Ish, a scholarly, liminal character who, when he finds himself apparently alone on Earth, counts “Always was solitary” as one of his assets in this new world (Stewart, 38). If he sounds to you like an unlikely protagonist, think again. It is only through a person like him—an observer, a person of big ideas, but not of big action or influence—that a story of so vast a scale can be told. The question, “How might humanity adapt?” is not asking, “How would Ish, the individual, adapt?” and Stewart answers the question to the point. This book is about humanity. More precisely, it is about the human tendency to grow comfortable with habits and routine, and to take too much for granted.

Necessarily, since the story spans fifty or eighty years, the actual storytelling is often quick and impressionistic. Character-building dialogue is mostly forgone in favor of frank, succinct assessment of the characters and their thoughts as perceived by Ish. The expositional narrator (third person limited to Ish) is overwhelmingly present. The chapters are noticeably episodic, especially in the first half of the book. Part One reads, at worst, as if Stewart wrote it from a formula: man encounters an unsuitable companion, man encounters a human threat, man begins solitary journey, man gets dog, man gets wife, man gets friend, et cetera. At best, it reads like Stewart is a master of concision, wielding a series of simple anecdotes to accomplish two things at once: make the post-apocalyptic world palpable to his reader, and ease his reader into empathy with Ish.

Stewart is surely successful in crafting a story that is not only understandable to his reader, but also readily experienced. Particularly in the closing chapters, when Ish grows very old and recedes into his mind, to return to awareness of the world again only rarely and haphazardly, the writing style is wonderfully performative. The identities of Ish and the reader become merged. Although at times the drama does seem forced or overblown (like when Ish and Em first make love) or simply too huge to handle (everyone is dead!), in the final reckoning, overall, the writing is effective and the drama of the story is convincing.

Also, all throughout the book, Stewart includes italicized asides in which the voice and point of view switches to that of an omniscient documentarian for a few paragraphs at a time. This is a risky choice, stylistically speaking, but it pays off. Not only does this heavy rhetoric lend an extra credibility to the story, but in addition, these passages contain many of Stewart’s most striking, unexpected insights, and they maintain the scope of the story as something bigger (much bigger) than Ish and his commune. Stewart is projecting the gradual disintegration of American material culture. Ish is only a witness to this grand process.

In the context of a college course on cli-fi, this novel seems out of place at first judgment because it has nothing to do with climate explicitly. The “Great Disaster” that begins the book is not environmental, but viral or bacteriologic in nature. Climate change was hardly known in 1949 when the book was first published. In fact, Stewart lets his characters thoughtlessly pollute. “The half-empty cans they merely left lying. There was so much litter in the street already that something more did not matter” (Stewart 200). Yet little instances like this are relevant. They show that environmental responsibility was not really on anyone’s mind in 1949. (If anyone would have thought of it, it would have been someone like Ish or like Stewart: a big thinker.) So, we are reminded of how far we’ve come.

Scientific progression! How much ignorance we have dispelled! We rule, you might even say. However, our claim to the title of stewards of the Earth is still tenuous at best. We could be called a pest of this planet just as rightly instead. In the sixty-six years that have passed since the debut of Earth Abides, we’ve taken the blame for much of the destabilization of the global ecosystem—it is known—but if we don’t take action to ameliorate this disaster, too, then what’s the use of knowing? History will judge us as pillagers and savages if we do not at least sincerely try to solve to this climate change problem that we’ve caused.

Ish, in the book, struggles with a similar dilemma. His tribe is in the same position in regards to literacy and agriculture as we are now regarding climate change. They are complacent, they are happy-go-lucky consumers, not producers, and they don’t pursue education like Ish had used to do before the Great Disaster. They couldn’t care less about learning how to read or farm. Of course they must realize that the leftover food in supermarkets, restaurants, and homes will eventually spoil or run out, and that then they’ll have to learn to farm without the help of any farmers to teach them. Presumably, in theory, they understand that. Even so, they take no action to insure themselves against this deadly inevitability. The urgency just does not seem immediate enough for them to care. For Ish, there is nothing in life more frightening than their apathy. He tries to warn them, to teach them, and even to preserve the university library like it’s some kind of temple—information is salvation—but they dismiss him as an eccentric. Within four generations, his tribe regresses thousands of years, back to the Dark Ages.

There is a lesson here. Please notice that, for all his talk about literacy, Ish does not think of literacy as his ultimate goal. Rather, his ultimate goal is for his descendants to know what to do with knowledge.

What should we do with all that we know?

First, what do we know? We know that the greenhouse effect is accelerating the onset of the next mass extinction, the likes of which have not been seen in sixty-six million years (Baronsky). This is bad. We know that mankind’s out-of-control emissions of greenhouse gasses is making the greenhouse effect worse by the minute. We know where these bad emissions come from: in 2012, only 10% was from commercial or residential sources, 10% from agriculture, 20% from industry, and the remaining 60% was from transportation or making electricity; tallying up to a total of 6,526 million metric tons of CO2 equivalents unleashed into the atmosphere by Americans (EPA). We know that there are some personal choices we can make to reduce our own emissions, like using public transit or buying CFL light bulbs; but we also know that the effect of each of these little green choices is negligible in comparison to thousands-of-millions-of-metric-tons total of humanity’s harmful emissions. We know, for instance, that even trains and busses emit CO2 and the production, sale, and use of even CFL bulbs puts greenhouse gasses into the atmosphere, too. It’s discouraging. Most of all, it seems, we know that it is hard to reverse the damage we’re doing to the ecosystem. Why? Why should it be so hard?

Much of the difficulty and discouragement stems from the fact that environmental irresponsibility is somehow built into so many of the institutions of our society. Consider a modest, unassuming jar of mayonnaise, like the one in your refrigerator at this moment. How did it get there? After producing the feed for the chickens that provided the egg yolks, after producing the vinegar (however that is done), after transporting these, combining and processing them, packaging them, shipping them, distributing them, and after calculating the carbon emissions of each of these steps (including the making of the glass jar, metal lid, and colored label, with glue); and after adding on your car’s CO2 output to and from the grocery store… what is the carbon footprint of this mayonnaise by the time you smear it on your sandwich? The correct answer is: “Way too big!” (Squarzoni 210-212, 317, 363-378)

The good news is that a long supply chain means many opportunities to minimize waste and reduce carbon emissions. The bad news is, well, how can we go about tampering with a super-system of interdependent industries that run together like a perpetually mutually motivated Machine, restructuring all their operations to conform to greener guidelines, across the boards, across the globe?  Is it easy? No. Who is actually empowered to do that? Who can institute sustainability on a wholesale scale? Only very rich, very powerful entities can: the leaders of our big business institutions, the money-hungry “one percent.”

So, who can hold them accountable? Since the late 1960s, the go-to answer has been “the consumer,” but now it is apparent that merely shopping green, boycotting the worst environmental offenders, and picketing evil Wall Street is not enough.

“The balance of power to really influence sustainability rests with institutional investors, the large investors, like pension funds, foundations, and endowments,” says Chris McKnett, leader of the Global Advisors’ Environmental, Social, and Governance Investing team at State Street. Institutional investors include the whole global stock market and the whole global bond market. In 2013, the total value of these markets was one hundred thirty-three trillion dollars—eight and a half times the gross domestic product of the United States—a very persuasive amount (McKnett).

Let us return to the great big question inspired by Earth Abides: “What should we do with all that we know?” In regards to our current predicament, to whom is this question really directed? I contend that it is not you or me, but the whole damned Machine. (It is damned. At this rate, selling all the Earth’s resources faster than Nature can replenish them, the greedy economic Machine damns itself. It damns all of us.) You and I can hardly make any more significant an impact than we already have made when we switched to CFL bulbs. Real remediation of the climate change problem can only be achieved by an inter-industry, worldwide dawn of corporate social responsibility, soon!

Maybe for some, it seems far-fetched to hope. Ish, at the end of his life, seems to reevaluate the worth of all his desperate efforts, and he seems to arrive at a neutral estimation. However, Chris McKnett of State Street insists that, thanks to the general rise in awareness about climate change, most CEOs today have “started to see sustainability not just as important but crucial to business success.” In other words, “cha-ching!” (That’s the language CEOs speak.) Perhaps it has been too hard for corporations to go as green as possible, when the only reason to do so was improving life on Earth for our descendants. Now, for money, they say they’re ready to try.

So we can hope. Maybe we can rebuild the Machine—this time, better, greener.


Baronsky, Anthony D. “Preventing the Sixth Mass Extinction Requires Dealing With Climate Change.” Huffington Post. Huffington Post, 18 Nov. 2014. Web. 10 Feb. 2015. Retrieved from .


EPA. “National Greenhouse Gas Emissions Data.” United States Environmental Protection Agency, April 2014. Web. 9 Feb. 2015. Retrieved from .


McKnett, Chris. “Chris McKnett: The investment logic for sustainability.” Technology Education and Design, 2013 Nov. Web. 8 Feb. 2015. Retrieved from .


Squarzoni, Philippe. Climate Changed: A Personal Journey Through the Science. Trans. Ivanka Hahnenberger. New York: Abrams, 2014. Print.


Stewart, George R. Earth Abides. 1949. New York: Del Rey, 2006. Print.T

I Would Kill Charlie Too

George R. Stewart’s Earth Abides provides a frightening argument for the fallacy of civilized ideals and the prevalence of Darwinism that is inherit to human existence once civilization has fallen. Earth Abides chronicles the post-apocalyptic devolution of humanity through the eyes of Isherwood Williams, or simply Ish, a former university student and self-proclaimed observer of the world. Ish’s personality shifts polarity between cold and sympathetic, as his desire to preserve everything humanity has lost is admirable, but his elitism and relentless pragmatism are at times alienating. For these reasons he offers an intelligent and flawed, but ultimately rational window through which to observe the events of the novel.

Earth Abides revels in the moral conundrums of the post-apocalyptic world, as Stewart masterfully lures the reader into understanding Ish’s logic. In one moral dilemma, Ish’s colder thoughts regarding the villager Evie, a woman with intellectual disabilities, are disturbingly eugenicist: “Should they have even kept Evie all these years? There had been a word – euthanasia, wasn’t it?” (Stewart 163). Her strain on the village, or at least what he perceives to be a strain, causes him to see her more like an object or pet, than a human being. Yet, while his dehumanization of Evie is appalling, he makes a significant, if not troubling, point when he confronts the mysterious Charlie about making sexual advances towards her “We don’t want a lot of little half-wit brats running in on us, the sort of children that Evie would have.” (Stewart 255). Between the lack care for Evie’s inability to consent and his use of “half-wit”, Ish’s remarks are woefully problematic, but there is still something painfully convincing about his reasoning. Likewise, when the Ish votes with the rest of his village to murder Charlie, it is hard not agree with them given how Ish’s perceptions of Charlie dominate the reader’s perspective. Ish tells himself that if Charlie poses even a potential threat to the fragile, little village, it is enough to justify a preemptive strike on Charlie’s life. Given how Ish is perhaps more aware than others of the village’s perpetual fragility, it is hard not to agree with him.

Indeed, Charlie’s death is perhaps the pivotal moment where Ish realizes that all the pillars of civilization, (truth, morality, etc.), simply do not apply anymore. Ish goes as far as to reason that “rationalism – like so much else – had only been one of the luxuries which men could afford under civilization.” (Stewart 284). He sounds absurd out of context, but the reality he experiences is one where quick witted, in the moment decision making is consistently more effective than careful consideration. Ish learns that with swift and certain danger lurking around every corner, whatever will most directly insure the immediate survival of the village is always the best decision. Morality means nothing if everybody dies.

With that in mind, Earth Abides is effective in arguing that civilization is nothing more than a delicate series of social constructions. While civilization is strong as long as there are people to uphold it, it is still a collective fabrication, and in times of great crisis, those same people who uphold it will scramble around worrying about their own survival before they will consider anything else. There is a dangerous universality to this assertion, but Earth Abides makes a compelling case to support it.

Humanity Abides

The Earth Abides is unlike any other post-apocalyptic novel or story that I have ever read. Many times when you read these types of stories, the author focuses on narrow ideas. Usually the majority of the story revolves around fending off various attackers and simply finding a place to repopulate the Earth while dealing with personality clashes, like in Walking Dead. While George Stewart brings up these concepts, he also focuses on much larger issues and uses the idea of the end of human existence as we know it as a platform to show the reader some of humanity’s flaws, hypocrisies, and injustices. The story begins with the protagonist Ish as he travels throughout America, experiencing a world without humanity. In his journey to discover what life has become, Ish witnesses the ugly side of the human condition after the convenient, organized walls of society come crashing down. He meets a man drinking himself to death, a couple who seem to have gone insane, a fearful woman who ran at the sight of another human, and a couple who still pretend that nothing has changed. Once back in California, Ish and his wife Em form a “Tribe” as they attempt to repopulate the world. Ish states numerous times in the book that he feels like an observer as opposed to a participant in life. He finds himself slipping into the “darkness” as he puts it, until his son Joey is born. Joey is what he had been waiting for, which was someone to continue his line of intelligence. As Joey dies, so does a part of his hope for the future of mankind as humanity resorts back to a more superstitious and simplistic state.


The author uses the absence of a regular society to show us some of the hypocrisies that cultures tend to adopt and to take for granted. He highlights racial injustices, issues that arise from organized religion, sexual stereotypes, the importance of reading and education, the impact society has on the environment, in addition to showing just how blind people can become when survival is not a day-to-day concern.


Perhaps his most important theme is the insignificance of the human race. This is the first thing I noticed as he talks about the various impacts the lack of humanity has on animals, plants, and the overall x. People tend to think that we have this firm grasp on our environment, but in reality we are just as close to extinction as many of the animals he highlights in the book. This is shown on the page before the introduction with the quote from Ecclesiastes, “Men go and come, but Earth abides.” This is the message that I took away from the book, which is that life on Earth should not be taken for granted. We are a part of life and nature; we do not control them. We get back what we put forth into the Earth. AKA Earth Abides.


Earth May Abide But Everyone Else Doesn’t

What would you do if you went into town for the day and everybody was gone? This hypothetical question is one that was actually presented to Isherwood Williams in our novel for this week, Earth Abides, as he stumbled from out of the mountains (where the poor guy was trying to work on his graduate thesis) to integrate himself back into society. He had hardly fared well in the mountains anyway, seeing as about one page into the book, our hero is seen being bitten by a rattlesnake. After he began to heal from the bite, he started to feel extremely ill, slipping in and out of consciousness. Once he recovers enough to function, he heads back down to civilization to find that there is absolutely no one there. He learns that the majority of the population was taken out by a freakish disease, he figures the same one that had plagued him in the mountains (he assumed the snake’s venom counteracted it and that’s why he’s still alive). He then ventures to his home in Berkeley, where he ends up finding a few survivors—a drunk old man, a skittish couple, and a girl who is obviously running from someone or something. None of these people are any use to him. He does however find a beagle who is very glad to join him on his adventure. When he returns to California, he finds a woman named Emma and they agree to be married and have children together. They join together with others and the electricity fails and the comforts of everyday life fade away. Though time, Ish tries to teach the children basic knowledge such as reading, writing, and math. He finds he has lost hope in all the children except Joey, Ish’s youngest and favorite son.

In part two, we find our hero twenty-two years in the future. The children are more adapted to their environment and they even inform the adults where the streams are when the running water fails. Ish begins to notice that the children are becoming superstitious so he asks for his hammer and the children are afraid to touch it because it’s a symbol of the old times. The years go by and everybody grows vegetables and begins to make bows and arrows. In this new society, Ish is highly respected by his ideas are often shut down by the younger people in the community.

In the third part, Ish’s life has considerably deteriorated to the point where he lives in a constant haze. He is very much unaware of the world as the rest of the community progresses with the new lifestyle (we’re back to basics, hunting with bows and arrows). He realizes the new civilization is hopeless, but he wonders whether or not it’s that much worse off than the old world. He hopes that the new civilization will not make the same mistakes and the book ends.

A major theme I recognized and agreed with from this book was the theme of natural selection. Natural selection refers to Charles Darwin’s theory of survival of the fittest. An example of this is in the beginning of the book when Ish encounters the old man. He wonders why the survivor couldn’t have been a “beautiful girl or a fine intelligent man” (Stewart 30). Even the old man wonders why he was spared (34). Ish gets angry when he asks this, saying that he has no clue why this old drunkard was spared over many other good people. Shortly after, Ish happens upon the old man lying dead in the on the sidewalk (36). Based on Darwin’s theory, we assume that the old man survived over other people because of some special characteristic he showed while all others were lacking in that area. However, we are unable to identify what it was that made him so special before he eventually dies, falling prey to the process of natural selection. Survival of the fittest makes many appearances throughout this book, considering its primary focus is on the disease that wiped out a population except for a very small group of people.

Earth Abides can be related to our secondary reading for this week in that they both have to do with a strange disease wiping out a population. The only difference is in our secondary reading, Silent Spring, this scenario is fake (Carson 3). Carson goes on to say that if a disease that was capable of wiping out a population, it would be the result of “man’s assaults upon the environment” such as the “contamination of air, earth, rivers, and sea with dangerous and even lethal materials” otherwise known as “pollution” (6). Reading this article made me wonder if the disease brought about in Earth Abides is a by-product of man’s pollution that has been culminating for as long as humans have been on Earth.

I didn’t enjoy this book as much as I thought I would. To be honest, I only picked it as an expert review because I thought that since it was longer, the plot would be more interesting because a lot of stuff would be happening. I was entirely wrong. On the whole, I thought it was predictable and uneventful.

Earth, We Do Mind Dying

Death is one of the concepts that the human mind can hardly begin to fathom. We spend the majority of our lives pondering how to confront our own death. If we cannot accept the inevitability of our own death, how could we even begin to accept the likewise inevitability of the demise of humankind? In Earth Abides, a seminal work by George Stewart, Stewart concocts a virus which wipes out nearly all of mankind and reduces civilization to disparate groups of stragglers. Essentially, Stewart is forcing readers to confront the enormous question: what would the world be like without us.

From the beginning of the novel, Stewart utilizes bleak vignettes separated from the main story of Isherwood Williams to show the progression of the world. In a sense, the planet Earth could be viewed as a character. Early on in the novel, the omniscient narrator personifies the planetary bodies and says how “we must say that they saw no change” in reference to the Earth (Stewart, 17). This shows how everything still looks the same on the planet even after man has almost entirely disappeared from it. This vignettes go onto to tell the fate of all the life forms and structures in the post-mankind world. The only lifeforms which truly suffer are the ones whose lifestyles were initially impacted negatively by humans in the first place. For instance, the sheep do not fare well because “they accepted the protection of the shepherd and lost their agility and sense of independence” (Stewart, 55). On the contrary, it is stated that, “of half a million species of insects, only a few dozen were appreciably affected by the demise of man” (Stewart, 59). Ultimately, Stewart seems to believe that the world without man would not be very different from the world in which we live now.

In his article, “Natural Affinities,” author Kenneth Brower states that, “In annihilating 99 percent of humanity in Earth Abides, the professor (Stewart) was just giving us a dose of our own medicine.” From this quote, a connection to climate change could be drawn, in a sense. Brower, whose article was written in the context of reading George Stewart novels while in Antarctica, makes the connection between mankind’s hunting other species for pleasure and our emission of greenhouse gasses. Brower acknowledges that Stewart recognized that man’s impact on the Earth was becoming increasingly negative. Man’s ego was increasing at an alarming rate, and mankind seems to think itself invincible. Therefore, Stewart struck back with a vicious blow and showed easy it would be for civilization to simple devastated in a matter of only days. Even in 1949, when we had far less knowledge about humans’ negative impact on the world that we have now, Stewart recognized that a world without civilization would probably be a better world. Coming at the inception of the Cold War, this novel must have been a devastating strike to man’s ego and sensitivity, especially those of voracious Americans’.

Upon reading this novel, I was reminded of one of my favorite poems of all time, “Dinosauria, We” by Charles Bukowski. In this poem, Bukowski likens mankind to the dinosaurs. We think ourselves to be the center of the universe; however, it would truly not to make much to knock the species off of its high horse and eradicate man entirely, just as what happened to the dinosaurs millions of years ago. However, Bukowski ends the poem on a positive note, stating “the sun still hidden there awaiting the next chapter.” Essentially, man’s decline from power is inevitable. This theme is shown in Earth Abides as other species all rush to fill the power void left by man. Stewart states “the ants had come first and then there were the rats” (Stewart, 118). Also, those aforementioned final lines of Bukowski’s “Dinosauria, We” are very reminiscent of the final line of Earth Abides, “men go and come but Earth abides” (Stewart, 345). Stewart, like many cynical “misanthropists” including the aforementioned Charles Bukowski, knows that the demise of man will certainly not be the demise of the entire planet. Conversely, it seems that the only thing that can truly destroy Earth is mankind itself.

In the third and final section of Earth Abides, which is titled “The Last American,” the main character Isherwood Williams seems entirely skeptical about the idea of civilization. He ponders, “They (mankind) did not think much about the world outside of them because man seemed to be greatly stronger than all the outside world” (Stewart, 335). Essentially, it would take the complete decimation of the species in order for man to realize the error of his ways. These finals scenes in which Ish is doubting whether civilization should ever exist in its erstwhile form are where Stewart’s message is able to come across most clearly. Clearly, Stewart believes, we need to rethink the way in which we mistreat our species and the planet in generally. He wants to deflate our egos so that we may realize that we are merely only one out of many species on Earth and we cannot continue to think of ourselves as superior.

Author Elizabeth Wells, however, does not see this ending as entirely pessimistic. She states, in her article “Earth Abides: A Return to Origins,” there is something reassuringly grounding in the return to a fundamental relationship with the natural world.” While the end of Ish’s journey in the post-apocalyptic world may seem to be bleak one, this new society has reverted back to the old tribal days in which man is at one with nature and is fighting a fair fight for his survival just like all of the other animals on the planet. Ish’s utopian dreams of recreating the society from whence his journey into the new, broken world began are shattered, but now he is able to truly able to realize man’s place in society. As he passes on his hammer (a key symbol of power in the new, mystic world) to one of his young ancestors, Jack, Ish’s mind is clearly made up. He realizes it is time to vanquish his title as “The Last American” and allow this generation which is aboriginal to the post-plague world to usurp his power completely. Ish becomes cognizant of the fact that this new, simplistic way of life is preferable to his outdated, American way of living.

In some ways, Earth Abides is like a post-apocalyptic version of Steinbeck’s The Grapes of Wrath. It tells the tale of one man and his family’s journey through a ravaged world while also being interspersed with brief vignettes which really bring the world itself to life. This effect is especially effective in Stewart’s novel because seeing the planet live and thrive as a character really exemplifies the novel’s final line as well as the title. It may be hard for any living person on Earth to hear, but, yes, life goes on without us. While Stewart certainly does not inform his readers as to how to approach personal death or mass death, (can there even be a feasible way to respond to this issue?) he does give readers an idea of how to make life on Earth a little bit better for everyone.



Works Cited

Stewart, George. Earth Abides. New York: Ballantine, 2006. Print.

Wells, Elizabeth. “Earth Abides: A Return to Origins.” Extrapolation (2007): n. pag. Print.