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Last Updated September 5, 2023.

"It was as though the whole world was thrown back six or seven hundred years without having the organizations those ancient peoples had."

He paused, breathing heavily.

"Of course, there were many survivors who understood small skills. Some of them would repair small engines, but they couldn't manufacture them. They couldn't refine fuels. Fortunately, a good many doctors who had practiced in small towns and in the country survived. They had their medical books, but they could no longer get the drugs they needed. Anyway, medicine survived after a fashion. Then gradually little patterns of order began to appear and another Bureaucracy came into being."

Through this statement, MacLennan achieves two things. Firstly, he provides a highly detailed account of what a nuclear apocalypse, one which destroys a great part but not all of human civilization, might look like. He comments in particular on the practical challenges that would stem from a breakdown in communications, trade, and economics before commenting on how, eventually, the shared human need for organization and law would result in another government being established. Secondly, he introduces one of the key themes of his novel, that of the destructive circle of history. The world being "thrown back six or seven hundred years" leaves readers in no doubt as to the hideous price paid by humanity for its inability to learn from the past.

He was the only man I ever knew who could use words like honor, duty, and responsibility without making me feel like throwing up.

Timothy embodies for MacLennan the politically and socially active younger generation of the 1960s, a generation than in his opinion had become morally degraded due to its lack of discipline. Timothy’s contempt for "duty," "honor," and other virtues more often associated with earlier generations such as his father's indicates the Oedipal struggle at the heart of MacLennan's work, wherein the son comes to reject the discipline imposed by his father and the love offered by his mother.

"Now, Dr. Anderson, you've been telling us how the world began and how brilliant it was of all the scientists to be able to find it out."

He paused and deployed his most innocent smile.

"But of course there were no scientists around when the world began."

Another pause, "Now I have a question with which Science—I hope I'm not getting out of my league—may be more humanly involved."

Another pause.

While "the world" being discussed here refers to the physical earth, an interesting subtext is here to be observed. "The world" might just as easily refer to the world order, the state of modernity that began in the Enlightenment and narrowly escaped destruction during the great conflicts of the twentieth century, only to arrive, in the mind of MacLennan, at a moment of crisis in the 1960s. The mocking skepticism with which the scientist Doctor Anderson is here being addressed reflects the moral and cultural chaos of the 1960s as MacLennan perceived it, the breakdown of order and objective fact as characterized by Anderson, and the advent of a misty and uncertain landscape across which humans wander, increasingly in need of an authority figure who will come to bring about the apocalypse.

He sat down again. He wanted her body, even though there were plenty of other bodies he could have. Which meant, I suppose, that he wanted her body to want his. It would have been beneath his intellectual dignity to admit that he also wanted her soul to like his own soul.

Hugh MacLennan is interested in communication, the way human beings interact. This troubling statement indicates how, in the context of the 1960s, the intellectual arrogance and social promiscuity of the younger generation has resulted in a situation where they can no longer interact meaningfully or maintain meaningful relationships.

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