The Drowned World

by

J. G. Ballard

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The Drowned World: Chapter 15 Summary & Analysis

Summary
Analysis
The next day, storm clouds move in, and at noon the temperature is about 95 degrees. The cooler temperatures revive Kerans, and he feels well enough to start the catamaran's makeshift engine. In the rain that night, he lets the rain pound on his skin. He eventually sees the southern edge of the inland sea, but his motor runs out of gas about a half mile from the shore. Kerans throws the motor overboard and paddles to the shore.
The process of running out of supplies mimics the downfall of humans on earth, but on a much smaller scale: there's only so much longer humans can maintain their fuel stores and food supplies in the newly inhospitable climate. Kerans, in this way, could be said to represent humanity as a whole throughout this final chapter.
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Kerans sleeps leaning against the catamaran that night, and the next morning he takes it apart and carries the kerosene drums up and over the silt slopes in the hope of being able to reassemble it and find the sea again on the other side. He often gets lost in valleys of dry silt and wanders through them before finding his way again. Finally, he abandons the drums and continues on foot through the jungles with a small pack of supplies.
Kerans’s abandonment of the oil drums marks a further deterioration of his circumstances and his chances of survival. Day by day, he more completely leaves the world of men behind him, but it is unclear what type of future he thinks he is headed towards, ill-equipped as he is for surviving the harsh environment.
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Later, Kerans rests below a tree at the edge of the forest. He can hear bats and iguanas and notices that his ankle is swelling and the infection is spreading. He cuts a walking stick and continues into the jungle. The rains start again that night and Kerans is too afraid to stop for fear of being attacked by iguanas. He continues for three days like this and occasionally sees a river, though he can never reach it.
Kerans's injury suggests that, regardless of whether a journey south is necessarily doomed from the start, his journey is most certainly doomed: the tropical climate will make it easier for infections to develop, spread, and eventually kill him. This shows that even if he is trying to join the natural world, his only success may come with death.
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During one stop in the rain, Kerans enters a narrow valley. He stumbles into an abandoned church. The roof is collapsed, but Kerans walks through it looking for a place to spend the night. He hears a faint cry. He wonders if it's an iguana, but can't see anything. He hears it again, coming from in front of him where the sun is setting. Kerans steps around the altar to find an emaciated man sitting against the back of the altar. The man's face is sunken, but he raises a claw-like hand to point at the setting sun. Kerans realizes why this man hasn't noticed him: the sun has destroyed the man's eyes, which are covered in cancers. Kerans thinks the man can probably only see the sun.
Finding this man in a church reinforces the possibility that this meeting is foretold by a higher power and meant to happen. It shows Kerans his future: although he already knew the sun is a destructive force, the extent of this man's damage and illness makes it so Kerans can't ignore his own future. It's also important that the cancer has made it so that the sun is all this man can see. The cancer caused by the sun, then, ensures that this man will remain fixated on his journey towards the sun since it's all he can see.
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Kerans kneels down next to the man and the man asks Kerans where he came from. He turns back to the sun, ignores the flies on his face, and says that the sun is gone. He asks Kerans to help him up to follow the sun. The man's hand opens to reveal a compass, and the man tells Kerans to sleep while he keeps watch. Kerans opens his medical kit and tells the man, who he realizes is Hardman, that they'll go together tomorrow. Kerans builds a shelter around Hardman and they spend the night there.
Again, the physical world as experienced through bodily sensations matter little when compared with the power of the sun and of the dreams that are still telling Hardman to go south. The fact that he still has a compass (which he likely can't see) shows that he does have memory of civilized life in some form despite the deterioration of his mental state.
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Kerans and Hardman remain at the church for three days. Hardman doesn't recognize Kerans, and Kerans feels as though Hardman's personality is buried deep in his mind. He believes that Hardman has been blind for about a month. Hardman begins to eat on the second day and is able to stand. On the third morning, Kerans wakes to find Hardman gone. He shouts for Hardman and gets no answer.
Hardman shows that giving in to the future foretold in the dreams means burying all the things that once made him the person he was. Now that he's devoid of memory or personality, he's little more than a symbol of the sun’s ultimate power.
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Kerans waits for two days before he continues to follow the sun south. Kerans rests for a day in an apartment building rising up from a massive lagoon. He tries to fix his ankle, but it's black and swollen. Kerans knows he has come more than 150 miles because of the increase in heat. He feels unwilling to leave this lagoon, and knows that Hardman will die soon. He knows that he likely won't survive much longer either.
Kerans has now accepted wholly that everyone who gives into the dreams and heads south in search of the sun will die, either from damage caused by the sun or by trying to break free from civilization.
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Kerans lies back and thinks of his last years. He thinks of his "neuronic odyssey," of Strangeman, and of Beatrice. Finally, he scratches a message on the wall that reads it's his 27th day and all is well, even though he knows that no one will read it. He then follows the lagoons south. He's a second Adam, searching for forgotten paradises.
As a final act, Kerans leaves proof that a human was here, which shows that even if the world is doomed, making his mark on it in a human way is still something he believes is worth doing. Insisting that he's searching for paradise suggests that despite being alone, he's going to a peaceful death.
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