The Earth Remains: A Journey Through the First Apocalyptic Novel

George R. Stewart’s 1949 Novel ‘Earth Abides’: Seminal Dooms day Novel That Predicts the Development of a Pandemic

George R. Stewart – best known as a historian and political scientist – wrote the 1949 novel ‘Earth Abides’. It reflects the fears of nuclear apocalypse in American society after World War II and was semi-autobiographical – It is written through the eyes of protagonist Isherwood “Ish” Williams, a naturalist, who is bitten by a rattlesnake and survives on the brink of death.

In the novel, 99% of the world’s population has succumbed to a deadly virus and Williams is one of the few survivors. The novel is structured into three parts; the first focusing on the first days of survival following the catastrophe and the later two parts cover 20 and 40 years in the future. It reflects on the direction the survivors have taken, their descendants’ adherence to the new social paradigm and nature’s reclaim of its former state.

Unlike other catastrophic novels, ‘Earth Abides’ doesn’t feature heroic or saving figures, but instead puts the emphasis on normal individuals who eventually see their world perish due to lack of resources and intellectual incapacity. Stewart’s work represents an ecological approach rarely seen in 1949 and offers insight into a post-apocalyptic world.

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