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The Main Issues Arising in ‘Children of the Dust’

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‘Children of the Dust’ is a novel by Louise Lawrence. It deals with the aftermath of nuclear war. It shows how the survivors of the attack struggle to survive and adapt to their new surrounding. It displays a family split up into two groups, the group of people inside the bunker and the group of people outside. The story covers a period of about fifty years, illustrating the way of life of the descendants of the people inside and outside the bunker. Even though the insiders and outsiders originated from the same family, they all end up having very different views on how human life should be continued. I believe that the main issues raised in ‘Children of the Dust’ are survival, prejudice and different values of society.

After the nuclear attack, different groups of people and communities use different survival tactics, with varying degrees of success.

‘Children of the Dust’ displays the different tactics that the remaining people and communities use to survive and continue on the human race after a nuclear attack.

At the beginning of the book it shows a family trying to survive in the shelter of their home. After some time they realise that the radioactive dust has been coming in through the chimney. They realise that they have been eating and drinking contaminated food and water. However, they refuse to give up because they know Catherine is capable of surviving. They persist and continue looking after eight year old Catherine as best they can. Catherine shows that she is determined to survive; she made sure she drank bottled water and ate canned food to avoid the possibility of contamination and she spent almost all her time in her cubby house under the table so she had little chance of breathing in contaminated air. It was like she had an instinct to survive. With the exception of Catherine, all the family get radiation poisoning as they ate, drank and breathed in the contaminated food, water and air. Sarah felt it was best that Catherine moved on to live with Johnson. The two together start their own ‘Utopia’ civilisation (with genetically mutated descendants who adapt to the environment) together.

Catherine’s father does not make it home in time before the nuclear attack and unforeseeable circumstances see that he seeks refuge in the government controlled bunker. In the book, the way of life in the bunker is sharply contrasted with life on the outside. We are able to make comparisons between the two groups of people who are both struggling to survive and rebuild their society.

The people living in the bunker have a large store of food and resources. They rely on computer images to remember and teach future generations about art, nature and the world as it was before the attack. Their civilisation is very advanced from a technology point of view – probably too dependant on the latter, as they are incapable of surving without technology. When their food supplies run out and their electricity goes down they are left with very little options. The outsiders, on the other hand rely on the basic survival methods such as agriculture and sewing. The outsiders have to work very hard to build their society and they struggle to reproduce, as most of the children are grossly deformed.

Initially the people inside the bunker are better off than the people on the outside. However, in the long run, the outsiders fare better. the people in the bunker run out of supplies and electricity. They become dependant on the outsiders as the outsiders have developed the necessary survival skills that the people in the bunker had not bothered to develop. The people inside the bunker become ‘dinosaurs in a bunker’ and they cannot survive in or outside the bunker as they have not adapted to the environment like the outsides whose thin slit eyes and thin coat of fur protected them from the harsh rays of the sun.

Prejudice is evident in the relationships between the outsiders and the people in the bunker as they both have very different views about society and morals, and they have different appearances.

Civilisations cannot afford to be prejudiced as prejudice causes conflict, which can eventually lead to war.

The people inside the bunker think that they are superior to the outsiders and only make contact with them out of need. The hierarchy of the bunker thought they had the right to take the outsiders’ cattle just because they were passive and were not as technologically advanced.

When Ophelia travels outside she cannot help but be disgusted by the morals of the outsiders and their living conditions and their mutated appearance make her physically sick.

Simon too, is very reserved when he first meets Laura and her people. He is wary of their appearance and values. At first he thinks that he is superior to them and their ways of living are basic, silly and simple but he comes to learn that in reality their way of living is more ‘fair’ and ‘just’ and that their people will out-live his as they have learnt the basic elements of survival unlike his people who never bothered to do so.

The different values of society are evident between the people in the bunker versus the outsiders.

When Ophelia ventures outside she is disgusted by the fact that Catherine was married to Johnson at fourteen while he was twenty-six years older than she was. She does not agree with the euthanasia principals of the community. She believes that leaving deformed babies out in the cold to die is inhumane.

Laura’s values contrast with Simon’s as Laura tries very hard to help him and his people, whilst Simon’s people had never cared about Laura’s people and had even tried to take their livestock.

The people who live inside the bunker hold the same values and principles they held before the holocaust and feel as though they are superior to the outsiders. The people on the outside founded their society on a completely new set of values, as they learnt from the mistakes that man had made before, and they wanted to make a ‘better life’ for mankind.

‘Children of the Dust’ is a captivating yet realistic novel that helps the reader to grasp a further understanding of the affects of nuclear war and the meaning and purpose of survival.

‘Children of the Dust’ displays the different values and ideas that different people and communities can hold. It also shows how the differences can cause conflict and even lead to things like nuclear war. Its main message is survival and shows that even when something as massive as a nuclear attack strikes, there will always be a few remaining survivors who will be there to continue on the human race.

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