The Drowned World

by

J. G. Ballard

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The Drowned World: Chapter 10 Summary & Analysis

Summary
Analysis
Kerans is rudely awakened by Strangeman yelling from a lower floor of the Ritz. Kerans has begun falling asleep at odd hours and spends more time sleeping than he used to. Kerans manages to splash water on his face by the time Strangeman has let himself into the room. Strangeman has brought coffee and aged cheese. Kerans avoids Strangeman's query about how "deep time" is, and asks Strangeman why he's come. Strangeman asks Kerans to come to dinner and says there will be fireworks and a surprise. He says that the surprise might stop Kerans’s "crazy time machine."
The promise of a surprise and a party is a tantalizing reason for Kerans to remain actively involved in the present and the near future, rather than remain fixated on the long-term future or the distant past through his dreams. Kerans's sleeping habit—and the dreams he experiences while asleep—show that he's continuing to fall more deeply into neuronics and into Bodkin's prediction of the future.
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Kerans asks how the diving is going, and Strangeman admits that it's not going well. Kerans wonders whether he has enough energy to attend a party, especially since he hasn't seen Dr. Bodkin or Beatrice since the diving party. Strangeman calls regularly on Beatrice, though from what Kerans can ascertain Strangeman is making little progress wooing her. Kerans finds coffee cups and Strangeman comments that they know each other well enough that he thought Kerans wouldn't mind the short notice for the party. Kerans wonders if he knows Strangeman at all, but understands that Strangeman is the only thing keeping him from heading south. Strangeman continues to pester Kerans until he agrees to come.
The fact that Strangeman isn't having any luck with Beatrice, coupled with her voluntary isolation, shows that Strangeman's courtesy and friendship aren't enough to keep her or her friends from the worlds they experience in their dreams. However, Kerans is aware that Strangeman is the only thing keeping him from his final descent. This suggests that Strangeman himself is a symbol of the human-centric present, and his presence is enough to keep that past alive in Kerans's mind.
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Related Quotes
When Kerans heads to Strangeman's boat that evening with Big Caesar, the decks are strung with colored lights. Kerans asks Big Caesar how long he's known Strangeman. Big Caesar says twenty years, and agrees with Kerans that Strangeman's moods change quickly and unpredictably. Strangeman meets Kerans, Dr. Bodkin, and Beatrice at the gangway. Beatrice is dressed in a turquoise gown and wears turquoise mascara, while both Kerans and Bodkin look somewhat disheveled. Strangeman has set a luxurious dinner table with gold and silver dining ware, and decorated the deck with bronze statuary and a Renaissance painting depicting the marriage of Esther and King Xerxes. As Kerans studies the painting, he notes that Esther bears a shocking resemblance to Beatrice. He also picks out a wedding guest who resembles Strangeman.
Big Caesar's replies show that Strangeman has a great deal of power over his crew—he's even been able to keep Big Caesar around for twenty years. Strangeman evidently used his exceptional leadership skills to put together his crew. Beatrice's turquoise dress is a nod to the tropical water, and perhaps also to the blue that the Virgin Mary is often depicted wearing. This confirms her role as a symbol of fertility and regeneration. The Renaissance painting is again suggestive of human achievement, which indicates that whatever surprise Strangeman has planned will also be a feat of human ingenuity.
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The wedding in the painting is set on a galleon (a type of boat), and Kerans thinks that Strangeman's party mimics the canvas. He points out the resemblance to Beatrice and suggests that Strangeman wants her to "subdue the floodwaters" in a manner similar to how Esther subdued King Xerxes. Strangeman bows to Beatrice and confirms Kerans’s interpretation. Beatrice insists she doesn't want the role, and Kerans again asks Strangeman what the surprise is. Strangeman insists they eat first. At the end of the meal, they watch a fireworks display as Strangeman smiles broadly.
The particulars of the painting and the way the characters interact with it mimic how Kerans, Bodkin, and Beatrice have been interacting with the idea of deep, distant time (using it as a roadmap to define their daily lives). In this case, however, Beatrice rejects the role she's been given: like Bodkin, the recent past and the idea of a human-centric future aren't interesting or things she wants to be a part of.
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Kerans tries to ask again what the surprise is, but Strangeman declares that Kerans is missing it. Kerans suddenly becomes aware of the sound of air pumps. He looks into the lagoon and sees the water looking lifeless, and yells for Bodkin and Beatrice to come see: the water level is going down. They watch buildings appear slowly out of the water. Beatrice grabs Kerans and asks him to make it stop. Kerans can barely understand what's going on and fears he'll have to reacclimatize himself to the world as it was before the flooding, though he still hears the sun pounding in his head. Bodkin mutters that this is fantastic.
Remember that Kerans doesn't remember a time when the cities weren't underwater. He has no lived memories to guide him through a world without water, while Bodkin does. For Kerans then, this regression to 75 years in the past is jarring—and, importantly, will be a return to a manmade environment rather than the natural, dangerous environment he's both grown up in and has prepared himself to handle in the future.
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Strangeman and Dr. Bodkin discuss how Strangeman managed to drain the lagoon by damming it, but Strangeman's good mood disappears when Dr. Bodkin recognizes where they are in the city. Beatrice watches Strangeman leave the deck and tells Kerans that he's insane. Kerans thinks that Strangeman's true evil character has come out now that the water is gone. Kerans studies the painting again and understands that Beatrice performed the way Strangeman wanted her to. Kerans hypothesizes to Beatrice that Strangeman will leave in a week and then the rains will come to fill the lagoon again.
When Strangeman begins draining the lagoon, he makes it clear that he has the power to exercise a great degree of control over the natural environment. He can actively reverse at least some of the effects of rampant climate change, something that Riggs and government agencies seem to have been trying to figure out how to do for quite a while. Kerans's suggestion shows at least an attempt to trust that nature will prevail and undo what Strangeman has done.
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Beatrice says that the city is hideous and like Hell. Kerans suggests that they go south and asks Bodkin if he'd join them. Bodkin is still entranced by the city appearing around them and says he must stay, even when Kerans gently reminds him that soon, Strangeman will turn on them. The boat finally hits bottom and Strangeman and his crew debark.
Bodkin is surely aware that Strangeman is dangerous, but when he prioritizes his childhood memories over his bodily safety, it shows that those memories are what he's living for. Revisiting those memories is more important than living to see the future.
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