Annihilation

by

Jeff VanderMeer

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Annihilation: Chapter 5 Summary & Analysis

Summary
Analysis
The biologist never enjoyed cities, even though she lived in one because her husband needed to be there. She hated the dirt, the grit, the crowdedness, the light obscuring the stars. Her husband often asked where she went late at night, and she said nowhere, insisting that she wasn’t cheating on him. She liked walking at night alone—it relaxed her and let her sleep. But she didn’t really walk far: only to a nearby empty lot, where the puddle had over time become a pond and she could observe two species of snail, three species of lizard, butterflies, and dragonflies. She didn’t tell her husband because she wanted to keep the lot for herself—she craved that time alone.
Here, the biologist again illustrates how people are fundamentally alone in the world—even when they have formed a relationship in a marriage—by providing more detail about her desire to be self-reliant and her tendency toward isolation. In addition, the fact that all of these species sprung up in an empty lot—a place inherently destroyed and degraded by human activity—suggests again that nature (even outside Area X) is more persistent than humans.
Themes
Nature, Power, and Persistence Theme Icon
Self-Reliance, Mistrust, Secrecy, and Isolation Theme Icon
Related Quotes
The psychologist told the biologist that Area X’s border is advancing, but there are thousands of transitional environments that no one cares about because they aren’t of use, springing up everywhere. If members of the 11th expedition returned without people noticing, couldn’t other things have gotten through?
Here, the biologist’s question adds to the mystery of Area X, implying that Area X’s power could already be spreading through the world. But, like the mystery of what, exactly, happened to the 11th expedition, this comparison ominously acknowledges that people may never fully know if the world is being slowly consumed by Area X—at least not until it’s too late.
Themes
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Nature, Power, and Persistence Theme Icon
Related Quotes
Recovering from her wounds, the biologist is drawn once more to the Tower. But first, she tries to sort out the lies that she has been told about Area X and what she has actually learned. Ultimately, the most useful thing about the journals is that they speak to a kind of inevitability—everyone had died or been killed, while Area X continued on as it always had. It seemed their superiors feared Area X, hoping not to antagonize it but to discover some explanation for it.
Here, the biologist again acknowledges that in contrast to the human beings on the expeditions (who were killed), Area X shows nature’s power and persistence in the face of human intervention, carrying on with little interruption. And even though her superiors want to understand Area X, the biologist realizes that the lack of understanding in the journals points to the idea that they may never fully understand Area X’s mysteries.
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The biologist examines the cells from the psychologist’s wounded arm and from her own body, but she finds they are normal human cells. Discovering this, the biologist becomes convinced that Area X is laughing at her—that observing the cells changes how they appear to her. Examining the samples she took from the village, she finds that samples of moss and a dead fox are composed of modified human cells. She writes, “Where lies the strangling fruit that came from the hand of the sinner I shall bring forth the seeds of the dead…
The nature in Area X is much more complex and intelligent than anything the biologist has encountered before. It has the ability to mirror her own cells, and it appears to have the ability to integrate human cells into organisms like the fox or the moss. This reinforces nature’s power over human beings in being able to consume and repurpose human cells. Whereas before the biologist believed that the “seeds of the dead” could refer to people’s journals, it also could refer to the people themselves, as they become “seeds” for the next generation of organisms in Area X.
Themes
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Objectivity vs. Subjectivity Theme Icon
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Discovering the fact that the environment seems made of human cells, the biologist wonders if Area X somehow created clones of the men on the 11th expedition and it was the clones who crossed back over. She thinks that there is something intensely unnatural about Area X—and she is relieved she finally has some proof, along with the brain tissue that the anthropologist took from the Crawler. After this, the biologist finally picks up her husband’s journal as the brightness washes over her, connecting her to the earth, the water, the trees, and the air.
Area X has an unanticipated power—one that makes it able to mimic and the expedition members, showing its autonomy over humans. This passage also illustrates how, even though the biologist has established many times that people cannot truly be objective, she still values the ability to collect and examine evidence as a way of shoring up her own sanity. And yet—as she noted just a few moments earlier—she believes the samples can shift on her, suggesting that they aren’t truly objective.
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Objectivity vs. Subjectivity Theme Icon
Most of the biologist’s husband’s journal entries are addressed to her, which makes her feel intensely guilty and grief-stricken. The 11th expedition consisted of eight members, all male: a psychologist, two medics, a linguist, a surveyor, a biologist, an anthropologist, and an archaeologist. They went in winter, when the trees lost most of their leaves and there were few birds.
The fact that the biologist is deeply upset that her husband’s journal entries are addressed to her suggests that she knows her self-isolation destroyed their relationship. Even when venturing out to Area X, the biologist’s husband was still trying to forge connections with her, whereas her withdrawn nature pushed him away.
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The 11th expedition discovered the Tower on the fifth or sixth day, and the biologist’s husband was very hesitant to venture down into it, because he had claustrophobia. Instead, they explore further, to the lighthouse. They discovered the pile of journals and had an argument about what to do. He wanted to abort the mission, because they were lied to.
The biologist’s husband also illustrates the importance of self-reliance in a way that mirrors the biologist’s own journey. Even though he was a part of the team, he has to look out for himself because of the suspicious way their superiors hid things from them, like the journals.
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Instead, the group split up, with several members staying in the lighthouse while the linguist and the biologist went back to the Tower. The biologist’s husband and the surveyor continued past the lighthouse. The next few entries exhibit a kind of euphoria, telling the biologist how much she would love the light, the dunes, and the wildness. They wandered up the coast for a week, but they never encountered the border. He writes that Area X expanded much further than the lighthouse, unlike what their superiors told them.
Earlier, the biologist wondered whether her husband experienced anything like what she was experiencing, and here, his journal confirms how much he had in common—and wanted to share—with the biologist. And yet, at the same time, the fact that they each experience these environments and missions without each other reinforces the idea that even in a relationship, humans are fundamentally alone in the world.
Themes
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The return trip to the lighthouse took four days rather than seven. At the lighthouse, the biologist’s husband and the surveyor found the remnants of a shootout between the psychologist and the archaeologist, who believed the psychologist was killed by a creature but then came back to attack him. He could not account for why they shot each other and died shortly after.
The 11th expedition’s experiences also illustrate their feelings that they were fundamentally alone in the world. As a result, these feelings fostered mistrust that consequently led them to destroy their relationships. This is evident in this incident in which the archaeologist and psychologist shot each other, which is eerily similar to the way the biologist and the surveyor shot each other on the 12th expedition.
Themes
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The biologist’s husband and the surveyor then returned to the Tower, but they only went down a few levels before coming back up, worried that the linguist and biologist were much farther down. But back at base camp, the biologist was dead with several stab wounds, and the linguist wrote a note saying he went down into the tunnel and telling them not to look for him.
The violence that the archaeologist and psychologist experienced repeats with the linguist and the biologist here, again showing how human beings will often destroy relationships out of impulses toward self-preservation and mistrust of others.
Themes
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The surveyor and the biologist’s husband returned to the Tower at dusk, where they saw seven members of the 11th expedition heading into the Tower, including doppelgängers of themselves. They were terrified and only watched as the group descended. The biologist’s husband thought that they themselves were dead, roaming a haunted landscape while other versions of themselves lived normal lives in Area X.
This story not only reveals more of Area X’s mystery, but it also shows how mystery can destabilize a person’s perspective. Seeing another version of himself is so eerie that the biologist’s husband thinks he’s dead. While the biologist knows that he obviously isn’t, these thoughts illustrate that being immersed in Area X has taken away his sense of reality, and that objectivity is nearly impossible.
Themes
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Objectivity vs. Subjectivity Theme Icon
Slowly, the biologist’s husband shook off this ghostly feeling, but he and the surveyor argued about what to do about the doppelgängers. The surveyor wanted to kill them, and the biologist’s husband wanted to interrogate them. But no one emerged, and they returned to base camp before deciding to go their separate ways. The surveyor wanted to return to the border, while the biologist’s husband refused to go back the way they came, worried it would be a trap.
Again, the biologist’s husband has the same impulse as the biologist: he doesn’t want to return to the border for extraction, and he mistrusts the expedition as a whole. Knowing that he is fundamentally alone in looking out for himself, the biologist’s husband mistrusts the surveyor and the impulse to return the way that they came, particularly after their superiors’ secrecy regarding Area X.
Themes
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Interspersed with the biologist’s husband’s account of what happened were more personal observations, most of which the biologist doesn’t want to relay, except one: “Seeing all of this, experiencing all of it, even when it’s bad, I wish you were here. I wish we had volunteered together. I would have understood you better here, on the trek north. We wouldn't have needed to say anything if you didn’t want to.” Reading these words, the biologist realizes that her husband had a deep inner life, but she hadn’t let him in enough to see it. She wishes she had connected with him more.
Here, the biologist concedes to the fact that her closed-off nature and secrecy contributed to her and her husband’s marital struggles. But even so, it is that self-reliance that enabled the biologist to survive Area X where her other members did not, affirming that even if she destroyed her marriage and other relationships by being isolated, she gave herself a much better chance for survival.
Themes
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Related Quotes
The biologist’s husband had many observations and photographs of the nature around him, which the biologist knows he took just for her. These were ways that he expressed his love. In the last entry, he wrote that he would use a boat in the village to travel as far as he could—to a nearby island on the map and perhaps beyond. This image, of her husband rebuilding a boat and following the coastline north, makes her proud of his resolve and bravery. In glimmers, she wonders if the dolphin’s eye was familiar for more reasons than that it was human. But she banishes the thought, knowing it will ruin her if she dwells on it and is denied answers.
It is not clear whether the biologist’s husband was able to make it through the border (and therefore was the person who returned to the biologist’s house), or whether it was, in fact, a doppelgänger who returned. The biologist acknowledges this when thinking back to the dolphin’s eye in the village, suggesting that her husband may have been consumed by Area X. But she also understands that the only way to truly satisfy the mystery is to acknowledge that she may never know the answer, because otherwise, these questions will drive her insane.
Themes
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By night, the biologist’s injuries have receded, and the brightness starts to expand in her body once more. She feels compelled to return to the Tower, taking only one gun and a water canteen. She doesn’t take anything to record, recognizing the pointlessness of the generations of expeditions whose records lay languishing in the lighthouse. She returns to the Tower, guided by the green light emanating from her own body.
Again, in pointing out that the records in the lighthouse are useless, the biologist understands that Area X’s mystery will never be solved, and so obsessing over an answer that she may never find is pointless. Turning away from the lighthouse and toward the Tower symbolizes that idea, as she turns away from what she thought would provide answers and would be safe and comfortable. Instead, she descends into and accepts the unknown. 
Themes
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Nature, Power, and Persistence Theme Icon
The biologist enters the Tower, descending past the first levels and observing that the glow on the wall has intensified. She comes to the place where the anthropologist lay dead—the body is now covered by the tiny hand-shaped parasites that live among the words in the wall. The biologist doesn’t know if they are protecting the anthropologist, changing her, or breaking her body down.
The parasites overtaking the anthropologist’s body are another example of how the book represents nature as much more powerful than human beings. Not only did the Crawler kill the anthropologist, but even these small parasites are able to descend upon her body and use it for their own biological purposes.
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Below the anthropologist, the Tower’s heartbeat becomes louder. The words on the wall become fresher, and there is also a hum. The Crawler’s slime becomes slicker under the biologist’s boots. After two hours of progress, the Tower’s heartbeat becomes so loud that it shakes the stairs, and the biologist vibrates with it. It is humid, and the biologist knows that she is close to something.
This description of the Tower is completely different from the first time that the biologist described it. This illustrates not only that her perception has completely changed, destroying any idea that she still can perceive some kind of objective truth, but also that Area X’s nature has completely integrated her into itself, such that she can see and hear it fully. 
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As the biologist spirals down one more set of stairs, she sees a sharp, golden light beyond the next turn. Seeing this, she feels that her free will has completely gone out of her, her brightness spewing from her mouth. She cannot make herself turn back, and she passes the threshold of the stairs and descends into the light. She would rather die than not know what lay beyond the corner.
This episode is the epitome of how nature has complete power over human beings. The biologist feels that she has no way of turning back from the light at the bottom of the stairs—Area X is in complete control of her. Her thought that she would rather die than turn back also suggests her insatiable desire to at least find out all she can about Area X, even though she knows she may never understand it. 
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During the last months at Rock Bay, the biologist was restless. One late evening after a one-night stand, while still drunk, she drove out to the tidal pools. She always thought that the tidal pools changed in the night when no one watched, and she trudged out into the pools to see. She knew that she was starting to melt into her surroundings, becoming wrapped up in them. She knew, stepping into the tidal pools, that she would appear to the outside eye as reckless, antisocial, or selfish.
The biologist’s description of how she was completely taken by the tidal pools illustrates how even outside Area X, nature has a compulsive hold over her. Thinking of this memory in this moment suggests that she feels similarly fascinated and consumed by Area X.
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At the tidal pools, the biologist was desperate for something familiar, a sign, or a discovery. And what she found was a rare species of colossal starfish covered in spines and known as the “destroyer of worlds.” She had never seen one, even in an aquarium, and the more she stared at it, the more it became alien to her. She got the sense that she knew nothing at all about nature, or ecosystems. She thinks that this creature, which had been catalogued, studied, and described, was irreducible to taxonomy. And looking at it, she felt she knew less than nothing about herself as well.
The very name of the starfish—the “destroyer of worlds”—suggests how powerful and persistent nature can be. But it also shows its power in other ways, in that its complexity actually transcends human understanding. Nature’s hold on the biologist here, as in Area X, was somewhat sublime. She felt that she would never be able to fully understand the environment around her or even herself, and she gave herself over to this feeling of mystery.
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Turning the corner in the Tower and encountering the Crawler is a similar experience. The biologist cannot begin to understand what she is looking at; the light blinds and overwhelms her senses. The sound is like ice crystals shattering, but she feels like she is on fire. The Crawler keeps changing, as if to mock her inability to understand it. It is a sluglike monster ringed by satellites of odd creatures, or a figure within panes of glass, or a series of layers in an arch shape. Then it becomes an overwhelming hugeness, a wall of flesh that looks like light—but she doesn’t know if these are all real or simply tricks of the eye.
Just like the tidal pools, the Crawler and the Tower also evoke the sublime. The Crawler is so incomprehensible that the biologist can’t even get a clear vision of it to try to understand it, as its appearance shifts from moment to moment. These images only confirm that the biologist may never truly understand exactly what the Crawler is, even when having a direct encounter with it. 
Themes
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In all of this chaos, the biologist notices what seems like an arm, encoding information on the left-hand wall, and perhaps something vaguely head-shaped. She tries to pull back, creeping up the steps, but the Crawler traps her. She begins to black out and come back to consciousness, still unable to truly see it. In her mind, she stands over the starfish. She tries to focus on the words on the wall, but she eventually gives up, simply letting herself go to experience this moment with “the most beautiful, the most terrible thing [she] might ever experience.” Time elongates, and she watches the Crawler for an incalculable time.
The biologist again relates her experience with the incomprehensible starfish to her experience with the Crawler: the description of it as “beautiful” and “terrible” again evokes the sublime—the idea that these images are so wondrous that the biologist can’t fully comprehend them. And the biologist also confirms that she can no longer even attempt to fathom the Crawler or what is happening—that the only way to be satisfied with the mystery is to simply experience it rather than try to understand it.
Themes
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Related Quotes
After this revelation and paralysis, the biologist slowly returns to the physical world and feels herself “thawing.” She once again recognizes that the Crawler is an organism that might be inexplicable, but that it’s a living creature that practiced mimicry using her own thoughts, pulling different impressions of itself and reflecting them back to her like a form of camouflage. She eventually feels her limbs again and is able to turn her back on the Crawler.
The biologist’s realization confirms how incomprehensible the Crawler is. The Crawler—and presumably, Area X as a whole—can completely change its appearance based on the biologist’s perception. This also suggests that there is no “true” appearance of the Crawler or Area X at large, and that any attempt to find objective truth is futile.
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Turning her back provides instant relief, and the biologist hugs the wall and closes her eyes. She starts to walk, sightless, back up the stairs. But she only makes it a step or two when she realizes that the thick light is transforming into heat and wetness—the sea itself. Even though she is not truly underwater, she feels herself drowning, and an innate panic seizes her. She keeps drowning and struggling, realizing she might drown forever.
Even though the biologist is not actually drowning, the Crawler’s ability to manipulate her mind again illustrates how powerful Area X’s nature is. This dynamic is an interesting reversal from the regular narratives about climate change, for example. Here, the biologist can be read as a stand-in in for less powerful, less complex organisms that are being manipulated and wiped out by human beings—complex organisms that they don’t understand, just as she doesn’t understand the Crawler.
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The biologist then feels the impression from behind her of hundreds of eyes turning in her direction, as though she is the starfish’s prey. She wants to live, but the brightness tells her that she will not survive this moment. She opens her mouth and welcomes the water—but there isn’t really any water. The Crawler transfixes her to the spot, and she cannot move. A waterfall comprised of fingers probes into the skin of her neck and then through her skull and brain. The pressure eases, and though she is still drowning, an icy calm comes over her. She smells burning inside her own head, and she screams as her skull is crushed and reassembled piece by piece. It is the most agony she has ever been in, and she blacks out several times.
The biologist’s thought that she is the starfish’s prey represents the idea that nature is far more powerful than human beings, such that the normal human/non-human hierarchy has become completely reversed. In addition, the biologist’s opening her mouth in this moment symbolizes that she is no longer struggling against nature and perhaps no longer even attempting to understand it. Instead, she has resigned herself to nature’s will and the fact that she may never truly understand what is happening to her—she is accepting her fate.
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Then, the invasiveness, as well as the sense of drowning, are gone. The Crawler tosses the biologist aside, down the steps, and she is bruised and crumpled. She has no choice but to scrabble down lower in the hopes of escaping the Crawler. Only when the light has faded behind her does she stop and lay there for a long time. She realizes that she has passed some test, unlike the anthropologist.
The biologist notes here that she was able to survive where the anthropologist had not, perhaps suggesting that the Crawler recognized that the biologist was already being “colonized” by the spores, as she puts it. This again suggests the power and persistence of nature—that the only possible way to survive it is to become a part of it.
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The biologist wonders if perhaps her only talent is to endure beyond the unendurable. She stands, legs rubbery, though she doesn’t know how long this takes. Soon the spiral stairs straighten out, and the humidity lessens. The words are less luminous. The biologist drinks water, catching her breath. As she continues, a block of fuzzy white light appears—like the fuzzy white light she saw when she looked back at the border on the way to base camp.
While the biologist notes that she can endure the unendurable, it again is worth noting that she is becoming more and more inhuman because of the spores. This implies that the only way she has been able to endure physical harm (like the way she endured the gunshots) is because nature is helping her to do so.
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After almost an hour, the biologist feels she must keep going, unable to return to look at the Crawler again. Eventually, she realizes that the blurriness is about 500 steps below her. It blazes in her vision, making her feel raw, and the grooves in the ceiling feel like they are scraping her brain. She can’t force herself to keep going, and so she sits, watching it for some time, feeling her nausea growing. She wonders if this is residual hypnosis—if there is some directive she can’t ignore, or if perhaps she is in “the end stages of some prolonged form of annihilation.”
The biologist’s reference to this situation as a “prolonged form of annihilation”—as in, a prolonged form of induced suicide—is an interesting one. It suggests that turning back is part of her own impulse toward death, whereas the door might be able to lead her back to life. Consequently, the biologist implies that death is simply a mystery that human beings must be satisfied to never understand—just as she may never understand the mystery of the door because she can’t truly confront it.
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Knowing she would likely die before being able to reach the door, the biologist turns around and feels eyes on her back. She realizes that she has another test to endure: returning to the Crawler. Before she turns the corner where it is writing, she worries about going mad this time, even though she knows it is an illusion. She stops thinking about the starfish and instead starts thinking about her husband’s journal—the image of him somewhere in a boat, somewhere in the north. Everything lies above her and nothing below her.
This is another interesting turning point for the biologist. She begins to let go of the mysteries—of the starfish that absorbed her and the Crawler. Instead, she anchors herself by thinking of her husband. While it has been helpful for both her and her husband to be self-reliant in Area X, her thoughts here are a concession that even though she was happier alone, maintaining connections with others can still be valuable. Relationships can provide a person with meaning, particularly when a person is also able to find autonomy within their relationships.
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The biologist steps out into the light again, expecting the drowning and the feeling of her head being cracked open, but nothing happens. The Crawler displays no interest in her. The biologist walks past it and risks one more glance back; she sees, barely visible, the face of a man—the lighthouse keeper. He has an expression of unending pain and sorrow, but also a look of ecstasy in his face. He is trapped within the Crawler, existing in a place no one can comprehend. Seeing him, the biologist realizes that there might be far worse things than drowning.
Seeing the face of the lighthouse keeper in the Crawler adds another dimension of mystery to Area X—and her reference to the pain and ecstasy on his face again calls back to the sublime. The biologist realizes that she cannot fully comprehend the beauty and terror that the lighthouse keeper is experiencing, just as she couldn’t comprehend her own experience being probed by the Crawler.
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The biologist never dreamed before Area X, which the biologist’s husband found strange. The week before he left, he joked that maybe this meant that she lived in a continuous dream and never woke up. She took this seriously, saying that all people might live in a continuous dream. He wondered if he was a figment of her reality, existing only to do her bidding. She joked that he was failing spectacularly, and he retorted that maybe he was succeeding because she wants him to fail. Then, hugging her to him, he asked where she would be if they weren’t together. She had no answer, thinking, Maybe nowhere.
This exchange gets at several core aspects of the biologist and her dynamic with her husband. First, his needling suggests that their relationship made him feel unfulfilled, as he suggested that he failed to relate to her. In addition, the biologist’s implication that she wanted to dissolve into nowhere—perhaps into some natural place like Area X—suggests that she preferred solitude, and consequently that this quality was destroying their relationship. Their discussion of dreams also reinforces the idea that it’s hard to understand objective reality when one is immersed in an environment or in one’s own mind. The biologist didn’t actually know if she might be living in a dream entirely of her own construct—she was too immersed in it to know.
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The biologist’s husband then asked her for a favor—a selfish thing to ask. He asked her to come after him if he didn’t come back from Area X. She wished she could have answered him, even to say no—because instead, she just assured him that he was coming back. She wishes now that she had gone to Area X for him, but she didn’t.
Up to this point, it seemed that the biologist came to Area X in pursuit of her husband, and to find out what might have happened to him. But in reality, the trip has the opposite purpose—it is a way for her to escape all of her relationships and to find the isolation and freedom that she has always wanted.
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The swimming pool, the Rocky Bay, the empty lot, the Tower, the lighthouse: these things are real and not real to the biologist. She remakes them with her mind every time she remembers and thinks about them. When she finally resurfaces, she lays atop the Tower, too exhausted to move, but happy in the morning sun. She pulls out the lighthouse keeper’s photo, needing to know that he wasn’t simply an apparition. She thinks about the anthropologist’s sample, which included human brains.
Even though the biologist still tries to cling to some facts, like the lighthouse keeper’s photo or the anthropologist’s sample, in the end she comes to the conclusion that there is no way to be objective in any facet of life. Her mind is an entirely subjective place, and even her memories constantly shift her perceptions of the things around her.
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The biologist tries to construct a narrative about the lighthouse keeper, who perhaps saw the Event that created Area X and its borders. What manifested was some unknown organism, which she calls a “thorn,” needing to assimilate into and create a new world—one that is entirely alien to them while mirroring what they know. The biologist does not know how this thorn got here, but it found the lighthouse keeper and didn’t let him go. And now the expeditions have become part of that environment as well, layered over one another.
The biologist’s constructed narrative about the lighthouse keeper again illustrates nature’s power. The fact that the Crawler has taken over the lighthouse keeper is additionally symbolic because the lighthouse is supposed to be the safeguard of human beings in the Area. So, the fact that the Crawler has completely consumed him suggests nature’s power over human attempts at dominion. The same is true of Area X as a whole, as it completely overrides any human attempt to understand nature or to stop the border from expanding.
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The biologist thinks that in some strange future, perhaps Area X will expand so much that it reaches the tidal pools she knows so well—and she realizes that she might not think that’s a bad thing anymore. The psychologist had said the biologist changed, perhaps meaning that she changed sides—she was persuaded to see that Area X is pristine in comparison to the world beyond, “which we have altered so much.” But the biologist realizes that her speculation is incomplete, her methodology is broken, and her motivations are selfish.
This passage takes on a more environmentalist view of Area X. Here, the biologist acknowledges that humans have the power to change the world (because they have altered it “so much”), but Area X has shown that nature has an even greater power to change it back and regain that pristine wilderness. But at the same time, the biologist recognizes the limits of her speculation—that she may never understand this mystery—and that any attempt to find objective truth about the place is futile.
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Related Quotes
After leaving the Tower, the biologist returns to base camp. She spends four days writing this account and plans to leave the materials with her husband’s journal close to the trapdoor. She replaces the lighthouse keeper’s photograph, along with a second circle around his face. If the hints in the journals are accurate, when the Crawler reaches the end of its latest cycle, Area X will experience another “cataclysmic molting.” She has seen growing energy across the village the past few days as she watched figures head to the Tower. The psychologist’s body is totally gone, as if she melted into the sand.
In leaving her and her husband’s journals for the next expedition to find, the biologist recognizes that she continues to be part of Area X’s cycle. It will keep expanding and keep consuming the humans who try to arrive and continue its mystifying “cataclysmic molting.” Moreover, it will always win out against the expeditions, no matter what they try to do. In summation, the biologist understands that humans will never be more powerful than nature.
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The biologist has no desire to find out answers anymore, but she knows that the brightness is not done with her. She plans to leave before the 13th expedition reaches base camp, though she wonders if they have already arrived. She wonders if she will melt into the landscape, or if one of them will come upon her, and she’ll see them staring at her in horror. She wonders, too, if she’ll be aware that anything is wrong or that she has changed.
Here, the biologist implies that she will soon become a part of nature, completely taken over by the infection that is spreading throughout her body. She also again points out her unreliability because of that infection—that she may not even be aware of what might be wrong or how she may have changed. This suggests that no one immersed in something can truly be objective about that situation. And, in not searching for answers anymore, the biologist also acknowledges that the only way to be satisfied about a mystery is simply to accept and appreciate that she will not understand it.
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Nature, Power, and Persistence Theme Icon
Objectivity vs. Subjectivity Theme Icon
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The biologist decides to follow her husband’s journey as far as she can. She doesn’t believe she’ll find him, but she wants to see what he saw and feel him close to her. She can’t shake the sense that he is still there, even if completely transformed, perhaps in the eye of a dolphin. She might simply find his boat, which would be enough to satisfy her. She tells the reader not to follow. She wonders if there has always been someone like her to bury the bodies and have regrets, to carry on after everyone else is dead. She writes, in conclusion, that she is not returning home.
In acknowledging that her husband may be present “in the eye of a dolphin,” which she saw earlier, the biologist underscores how Area X has completely consumed the humans who have visited. And even though the biologist is going in pursuit of her husband, in reality, the book closes with the impression that she has finally found freedom in being alone. Even if she has some regrets about not connecting more with her husband, she values the isolation in Area X and would rather remain there than return home. Her self-reliance has helped her survive, and even though it has destroyed her relationships, she finds more value in that solitude than trying to return to her empty life.
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Nature, Power, and Persistence Theme Icon
Self-Reliance, Mistrust, Secrecy, and Isolation Theme Icon
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