A Classics Challenge–EARTH ABIDES by George R. Stewart

For this month’s Classics Challenge, we’re supposed to answer questions about a character we found interesting in our classic of choice. I’m going to review Earth Abides, by George R. Stewart, which I would define as an apocalyptic sci-fi classic from 1949.

What phrases has the author used to introduce this character? What are your first impressions of them? Find a portrait or photograph that closely embodies how you imagine them.

The main character in this book has the charming name of Isherwood Williams (nicknamed “Ish”). I love the name–different and memorable without being wacky.

We’re thrown into Ish’s world in a dramatic way–he’s bitten by a snake. We know he’s smart, because he immediately knows enough to cut himself and suck the poison out, calming himself so it won’t spread faster into his bloodstream.

As the book opens, Ish is a young man in a post-plague world. We follow him from the woods into civilization, where he finds everyone has disappeared or died. We’re rooting for him as he discovers what’s happened.

The cool thing about Ish is that I pictured him as an average guy with smarts. Not really distinctive in looks, etc. But let’s see if I can find a photo of how I pictured him…Okay, this isn’t quite perfect, as I pictured someone shorter and somewhat nerdier. But he would’ve had a beard, from living in the woods for awhile (for his thesis research).

How has the character changed? Has your opinion of them altered? Are there aspects of their character you aspire to? or hope never to be? What are their strengths and faults? Do you find them believable? If not, how could they have been molded so? Would you want to meet them? 

As we get to know Ish, he seems kind of disconnected emotionally. He enjoys watching the world and learning, and is not greatly moved by death. He also toys with the idea of acting as a god to the simple people.

As the book goes on (Ish becomes a dad, ages, etc), I don’t appreciate the way he favors one child and neglects his non-cerebral children (all in his attempts to save the human race, of course). But as the book ends, his thoughts shift away from that mentality, as he sees how his wife’s simplistic, yet stable views have been more important than his cerebral ones.

Yes, I would want to meet him, and I would’ve hung out with him if the human race was mostly wiped out by plague!

Try writing a short (four sentences +) note or letter as the character, addressed to you, another character, the author, anyone. 
Dear Emma (his wife),
I wish I would’ve told you that I couldn’t have survived without you. I was ready to give up in this barren new earth we inhabit. You restored faith and humanity to me, and I’ve always drawn all my strength from your comfort. Sorry I wasn’t the leader and example I could’ve been.


11 thoughts on “A Classics Challenge–EARTH ABIDES by George R. Stewart

  1. Hi Heather: I enjoyed reading your post for this challenge – I'm thinking about how I'm going to respond. Your picture looks pretty accurate – this seems like it is going to be a fun part of responding – finding a picture that fits the person. These questions (and last month's) are great – they are helping me think about my novels and their authors more deeply. Happy reading, Ruby http://yearofreadingmybooks.wordpress.com/

  2. It is a unique viewpoint…though very Darwinian (not my viewpoint!). He asserts that the only ones who survived the plague were the simpler ones, who could adapt and process the shock of seeing everyone die. I have to think that more smart people would've survived, and the civilization would've continued moving forward, not reverting to early-man mentality. But HEY, it was his book, so he got to choose the worldview. It is worth reading.

  3. This is one of the many unread books which we have in the house. It belongs to my husband and he hasn't got around to it yet, but I think I might give it a go, although I don't read much in the way of SF. Thanks.

  4. I'm another who has never heard of this book! Sci-Fi is not really a genre I read much of but I did enjoy reading your post and Ish sounds an interesting character so if I come across it I might give a try.

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