Nevil  Shute
Symposium 2001
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Mount Alvernia High School, Newton, MA
Joanna Capraro
“The Use of Reality and Illusion in the Works of Nevil Shute”
“Japan After the Atomic Bombings of Hiroshima and Nagasaki”


On August 6, 1945, when the first atomic bomb was dropped over Hiroshima and the second bomb a few days later over Nagasaki, few could have imagined the devastation that it would bring. In the days, weeks and months that followed, victims were left burnt, dying and without assistance, while the United States government began a medical study and cover-up operation, which spanned the Japanese occupation. Years after the atomic blast, new generations are still being affected by what occurred in 1945. They live their lives as permanent reminders of the devastation inflicted upon them.

As a fervent opponent to nuclear warfare, British author Nevil Shute wrote On the Beach, one of many books which portrayed symbolic characters coping with catastrophe through reality and illusion. “They had a cup of tea before the dying fire.” With these words, Nevil Shute encompasses the theme he used through out his books On the Beach and A Town Like Alice. These characters live their lives, or have a cup of tea, while the world around them slowly reaches its end, like a dying fire. Those who portray reality are characters who face the world around them realistically and without impossible dreams. Characters who use illusion are unable to face the truth, and build worlds in which nothing is wrong, anything is possible, hope is very much alive, and their lives are full of an element of naiveté. Some characters can see the irrationality in others but not in themselves. The differences in these characters are contrasted through their relationships with one another. Those who use illusion are often closely linked with those who face the world with more practicality.

Photo credit: http://www.changeover.com/shute/