The Drowned World

by

J. G. Ballard

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The Drowned World: Chapter 12 Summary & Analysis

Summary
Analysis
Kerans is tied to a massive throne. Crewmembers dump a pile of human bones at his feet, and Big Caesar throws a pile of kelp at Kerans’s head. The entire crew, including Strangeman, are dancing and drinking, and the beat of their drums nearly overpowers the beating in Kerans’s mind. He moves in and out of consciousness due to the pain. The crew's torture of Kerans has been going on for two nights now, though Kerans realizes that Strangeman is reluctant to kill him. The dancers begin beating the bones like drums before Strangeman signals the end of the party for the night. Kerans is left in the empty square, tied to the throne.
The torture of Kerans is a crucifixion of sorts: he's tortured and derided for the worldview he represents and promotes. When the drums almost cancel the beating sun, it shows that this kind of organized human cruelty is superior and more effective in altering the mind than nature and the heat of the sun are. When the bone imagery continues here, it shows that the crew believes (rightfully) that Kerans is promoting a future that spells death for humans.
Themes
Man vs. Nature Theme Icon
Memory vs. The Future Theme Icon
Science and Psychology Theme Icon
Birth, Renewal, and Doom Theme Icon
Kerans yells for Beatrice. It was a miracle that Kerans survived full exposure to the previous day’s noon sun, and even Strangeman had commented on the miracle. As Kerans sat in the sun, he thought of Hardman and the mysterious power that seemed to make him able to survive the heat.
It seems that Kerans is becoming more powerful—or at least more able to withstand his brutal environment, suggesting he’s preparing to survive in the heat and follow in Hardman's footsteps.
Themes
Man vs. Nature Theme Icon
Birth, Renewal, and Doom Theme Icon
At the beginning of the third night, Strangeman is surprised to see Kerans alive. Eventually, Strangeman gives the order for the throne and Kerans to be lifted into a cart. They set off in a drunken procession through the streets. Kerans feels revived by the cool air but feels like a defeated Neptune. The crew begins to chant, and as they pass the planetarium Big Caesar puts the alligator head on Kerans's head. The cart gains speed again, rolls ahead of the group, and crashes into a wall. Kerans is flung facedown into the middle of the street without the alligator head. The group surrounds him for a minute, laughing. Strangeman leads the group away and seems sure that Kerans is going to die now.
The reference to Neptune (the Roman god of the sea) in this passage strengthens the link between Kerans and the natural world. He wants to bring the water back to London by re-flooding the lagoon—which is why Strangeman has tied him up and is now torturing him. Killing Kerans at this point and in this way would symbolize the victory of human achievement over the natural world and the power of the ancient past.
Themes
Man vs. Nature Theme Icon
Memory vs. The Future Theme Icon
Kerans takes inventory of his bruised body and realizes that the left arm of the throne broke, freeing that arm. He manages to slip his hand out of its tie and then frees his other hand. Kerans lies there for another five minutes before crawling out. He leans against a wall and notices two figures approaching, one of whom looks like Strangeman. Kerans slips into an arcade and waits near the rear entrance as Strangeman and Big Caesar discover that Kerans is gone. They curse, and Kerans escapes into the University quarter.
When Kerans escapes into the part of the city that was so dear to Bodkin, it shows that human connection was important to the two men: now, it's what might save Kerans's life. It's a major snub to Strangeman that Kerans escaped because one of Strangeman's beloved man-made objects broke and freed him. Human achievement faltered in this situation.
Themes
Man vs. Nature Theme Icon
Birth, Renewal, and Doom Theme Icon
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Strangeman doesn't send out search parties, and Kerans takes up residence in an apartment building. He finds water to drink and kills a small lizard to eat. He bars himself in an elevator service cubicle and sleeps through the day until evening. As the sun fades, Kerans paddles a handmade raft to the Ritz. He leaves the raft with other debris and enters the hotel. He finds his penthouse suite wrecked and the decoy safe opened, but is pleased to find that Strangeman's men didn't find the real safe in the bedroom. Kerans opens it and pulls out his gun. He loads it and puts the extra bullets in his pockets.
By not sending out search parties, Strangeman seems willing to allow Kerans to become little more than a memory for his men. Destroying the Ritz was likely intended to keep Kerans from taking anything valuable to help him survive going forward. When Kerans eats the lizard, it’s a moment of primal behavior unlike anything readers have seen from him until this point, showing how he is becoming more a part of the natural world each day.
Themes
Man vs. Nature Theme Icon
Memory vs. The Future Theme Icon
As Kerans surveys the damage in the room, he realizes he doesn't hate Strangeman. Rather, he thinks that Strangeman made it very clear that he needs to abandon London and move south. He realizes that Riggs represents the past and the demolished suite represents the present, and neither will keep Kerans alive or satisfied.
Kerans's indifference towards Strangeman and his decision to go south shows that he really has little use for emotions about people and feels that remaining immersed in a group or community is no longer an acceptable option for him.
Themes
Man vs. Nature Theme Icon
Birth, Renewal, and Doom Theme Icon
Just before midnight, Kerans quietly climbs up the paddles of the depot ship. He waits until all signs of life on the ship are quiet before climbing onto the deck. Kerans stops when he realizes that the Admiral is there, smoking in the dark. The Admiral surveys the deck and looks right past Kerans in the dark, but seems not to spot him. Kerans sneaks into Strangeman's saloon where he finds Beatrice in a mahogany chair, still wearing her ball gown.
Despite his rejection of humanity as a whole, Beatrice is still a draw for Kerans: as his Eve, they belong together in this new world. Because she's still in her ball gown, it suggests that Strangeman is trying to cultivate and maintain the illusion that the recent past is alive, perhaps to tempt her back from her dreams to the present.
Themes
Memory vs. The Future Theme Icon
Birth, Renewal, and Doom Theme Icon
Kerans quietly parts the beaded curtain and steps in. Beatrice pays no notice, and Kerans notices that there are chests surrounding her filled with jewels. He startles her out of her reverie. Beatrice tells Kerans to leave her, but Kerans refuses. He helps her up and reminds her that Strangeman is insane. When Beatrice tries to argue, Kerans shushes her and tells her that they're leaving. As he turns to leave with her, a whirling blade flies through the air at him. Big Caesar pushes through the beaded curtain, holding a long knife. Kerans and Big Caesar face off and Kerans shoots and kills him.
That Beatrice is surrounded by offerings from Strangeman and the crew casts her as a goddess of sorts, which shows that Strangeman is still idolizing her and wants to win her over. When Kerans kills Big Caesar, he takes active steps to take down individuals who wish to deny or prevent the future he envisions.
Themes
Memory vs. The Future Theme Icon
Birth, Renewal, and Doom Theme Icon
Grabbing Beatrice, Kerans leads her through the ship and declares that they'll have to leave via the gangway because of her voluminous skirts. When they're halfway down, they hear the Admiral shouting and gunshots behind them. Kerans steers Beatrice into the shadows and then into a side street. Beatrice realizes that Strangeman has them trapped, and tells Kerans to leave her. They make it back to the depot ship and hide in the shadow of the paddles. Strangeman calls for Kerans to give up and threatens to kill Beatrice.
The end seems imminent at this point. Strangeman has made it very clear that he is truly the most powerful person in London, as well as the most powerful entity in London since he has the power to shape the environment. Strangeman's threat to kill Beatrice preys on the fact that he knows Beatrice is the only person at this point that Kerans cares about.
Themes
Man vs. Nature Theme Icon
Science and Psychology Theme Icon
Birth, Renewal, and Doom Theme Icon
Kerans gives Beatrice his gun and walks out to Strangeman. When Strangeman begins to charge at him, he tries to flee but slips in a puddle. He tries to get up but is suddenly grabbed from behind and pulled backwards. Kerans sees men in brown uniforms, headed by Colonel Riggs, advancing towards Strangeman and his crew. Riggs is wielding a machine gun. Although most of the crew backs off, a few try to approach. The machine gun shoots over their heads and they fall into line. Strangeman looks perplexed at all this. Kerans looks at the person who pulled him back and realizes it’s Sergeant Macready.
Riggs demonstrates his loyalty to Kerans, Bodkin, and Beatrice by returning, which suggests that he's still not experiencing the dreams (and by extension, the desire for isolation caused by the dreams). Despite the fact that Riggs represents a worldview and a future that Kerans doesn’t believe in any longer, he’s still saved by Riggs’s intervention and his brute military power.
Themes
Man vs. Nature Theme Icon
Memory vs. The Future Theme Icon
Science and Psychology Theme Icon