The Drowned World

by

J. G. Ballard

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The Drowned World: Chapter 3 Summary & Analysis

Summary
Analysis
Kerans berths his catamaran (a type of boat) alongside the base and lets himself in. He waves at Beatrice before he closes the door, but she turns away. Macready steps out from the guard's cubicle and asks about Beatrice, and Kerans says that he thinks Beatrice will come with them. Macready doesn't seem to believe this. The narrator says that Kerans had decided to act as though he's going to leave, even if he ends up staying. He needs to spend the next few days stealing equipment and knows that acting distraught will attract attention.
Once again, Kerans's unwillingness to commit and make an active decision mirrors the novel’s portrayal of humans as powerless in the grand scheme of the world. However, accepting that he has to steal supplies and make some preparations is evidence that there's some semblance of a concrete plan beginning to take shape, or at least that Kerans accepts that he needs to make one if he wishes to survive.
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Macready tells Kerans that Dr. Bodkin needs his help with Lieutenant Hardman. Kerans thinks he needs to escape Macready, so he asks him about the plan to put up more mosquito netting. Macready has a "Presbyterian conscience" that makes him highly susceptible to guilt trips, and he assures Kerans that he'll get started on the project. Kerans leaves him and walks through the base to the armory. He thinks of his Colt .45 (a type of gun) in his drawer at the Ritz, which he has never fired. He scans the weapons, all locked to the walls, and the cartons of explosive gas. Kerans gets down to inspect the gas further and picks up a broken compass, which points south.
Because the novel relies so heavily on psychological concepts, it's important to note that everything Kerans does or thinks is reflective of an instinct or thought that Kerans himself may not be conscious of. Here, taking the broken compass (something objectively useless for navigation by normal standards) foreshadows Kerans’s eventual southward journey, and symbolizes a psychological attraction to the idea of south and the sun more generally.
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Kerans leaves the armory with the compass. A sudden thought enters his mind of blowing up the base and testing station, and he steadies himself. He heads for the sick bay, where he finds Dr. Bodkin and Lieutenant Hardman in a private room. Hardman is the senior helicopter pilot and serves as Riggs’s deputy. He's an amateur naturalist and keeps notes of the changing plants and animals, organized by his own taxonomical system that Kerans finds questionable. Hardman's demeanor has kept the relationships among those at the base loose and fragmentary, which Kerans appreciates. Recently, Hardman began complaining of insomnia, and then retired from flying duty with malaria. As Hardman grew increasingly ill and solitary, Kerans thought little of it and left him alone, though Dr. Bodkin viewed things more seriously.
Kerans’s disturbing thought about blowing up the base is proof that latent thoughts and drives are coming to the forefront of his mind. Ballard’s introduction of another character with issues relating to their sleep provides further evidence that whatever dreams Beatrice is experiencing aren't unique to her. Hardman's unique taxonomical system shows a character using new methods to make sense of the new environment. This constitutes a departure from science as Kerans knows it, while Kerans continues to observe the world around him using tried and true scientific methods.
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Kerans enters the private room. Not only is the air conditioning off, but Bodkin has a heater running. Hardman has on headphones, and the light from the heater makes it look like Hardman has a halo. Kerans can hear a slow drumming coming from the headphones. Bodkin makes a few notes, switches off the record player, and unplugs the heater. Hardman tells Bodkin that what they're doing is a waste of time, as he can't make any sense of the records. Bodkin says that the records are an "aural Rorschach," and finally addresses Kerans. He turns back to Hardman, motions to a contraption that looks like two connected alarm clocks, and tells Hardman how to keep the clocks set and running to keep the dreams at bay. Hardman says that it sometimes seems as though he has the dreams continuously, even during the day.
The halo created by the heat momentarily turns Hardman into a religious figure, which suggests that it's possible that he holds some key or piece of information that will help guide other characters on a similar "spiritual" journey. Finally, Ballard explains more about the dreams: the bedridden Hardman experiences them all day. This suggests that the dreams change how people experience consciousness, and this change is undeniably exhausting and difficult for those who undergo it.
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Kerans realizes that Hardman still looks emotionally well despite his illness. Bodkin says that Hardman might be right, and that there are various views on what consciousness and "being awake" actually mean. Kerans expresses agreement with Bodkin and says that Hardman will surely improve once they leave the lagoons in three days. Hardman looks surprised, but turns back to his books. Kerans is angry to realize that he tipped off Hardman deliberately, and thinks he's losing control over his own motives.
Bodkin confirms that the dreams alter consciousness, but sees these changes as just another of the many mysteries of consciousness and psychology. This shows Bodkin using old systems to describe and make sense of new phenomena. Again, Kerans is very much aware that his thoughts are taking on a life and a will of their own—his own consciousness is changing too.
Themes
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Kerans and Dr. Bodkin take Kerans’s catamaran to the testing station. The men enter their laboratory, the walls of which are covered in notes from their three years here. The notes from the beginning are dense, while the most recent ones are sparse and incomplete. They sit at their desks, and Kerans traces the shape of a compass on the surface of the desk while he waits for Bodkin to explain what he was doing with Hardman.
By tracing the compass, Kerans shows that he's thinking, at least subconsciously, about north versus south (remember the compass he stole points south), suggesting a deep preoccupation with the transformation the globe is undergoing (which is more extreme to the south).
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Kerans apologizes for telling Hardman that they're leaving, but suggests that the knowledge might jolt him out of his lethargy. Bodkin says that the prospect of leaving seems to have done nothing for Kerans, which Kerans agrees with. He asks Bodkin what he was doing with Hardman. Bodkin looks critically at Kerans, and Kerans realizes that he's as much a research subject to Bodkin as a colleague.
Bodkin makes an important point: the promise of change in the near future hasn't really changed how Kerans, or Beatrice for that matter, are thinking about the future. They're both thinking that they won't participate in that promised future because they don't see the point, or no longer believe in it.
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Bodkin asks Kerans to summarize their findings of the last three years. Kerans says that with the rising temperatures and the radiation, flora and fauna are becoming much as they were during the Triassic period. Bodkin praises this summary and continues that although they've carefully documented the "backwards journey" of plants and animals, they've neglected to study man. Kerans asks jokingly if humans will turn into pre-humans, and Bodkin turns to face a caged marmoset. He says that biological processes aren't completely reversible: humans might return to the jungle, but they'll never become apes again.
Bodkin makes an interesting point here, given the overarching message of the book as a whole. He points out that, despite all the documentation they’ve been doing, they’ve largely ignored the changes that humans might be experiencing—which is ironic considering that the science he and Kerans have been conducting is focused on securing a future for humans on earth.
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Bodkin continues and says that many on the unit have felt the sense that they actually remember the swamps and lagoons. He insists that nothing endures in the unconscious mind longer than fear, and that's the reason why humans irrationally fear spiders and snakes: humans subconsciously remember when spiders, snakes, and reptiles were the more dominant species, and therefore frequently posed serious lethal threats to humans.
Bodkin’s idea ties evolutionarily developed mechanisms to memory. He suggests that animals (humans included) don't just fear something because a parent taught them to or because they learned the fear themselves—rather, our deepest fears are evolutionarily engrained memories.
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Related Quotes
Kerans asks if the increased heat and radiation are triggering these fear responses in the human mind, but Bodkin says that these memories aren't of the mind. He posits that every person contains the memories of the entire evolution of the world in their spines and central nervous system. By traveling down the spine, one can go back into the "archaeo-psychic past" to find dormant thoughts and drives. Dr. Bodkin says that he's calling this theory "neuronics" and believes that as they move back through the archaeo-psychic past, people will recognize the land around them. Further, Bodkin says that the memories aren't harmless: if allowed to take control of a person, that person will be swept backwards in time. He says that with Hardman, the experiments with the heat seem to have made him more accepting of the dreams and less disturbed by them. He says the alarm clocks will keep Hardman awake as long as possible.
Bodkin is creating a new structure and set of guidelines to make sense of the dream phenomena: the old systems of thinking about dreaming aren't useful to understand the dreams. The language that Bodkin uses to talk about what they're supposed to do with these memories suggests that although he is trying to keep Hardman awake to stave off the dreams, there's really no way to make them stop. This shows that it's impossible for things to continue as they have in the past. The dreams are inevitable and must be accepted. They have immense power and, as Bodkin just noted, will eventually cause man to "return to the jungle"—though not as he once was.
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Kerans gets up to look out the window and watches Macready and Riggs talk on the gangway of the base while he considers Dr. Bodkin's theory. He thinks it's a valid theory, and thinks that that the UN's policy of keeping life going like before within the Arctic and Antarctic circles is silly given the rising temperatures and water. Kerans thinks it's probably more important to map the mind than the outer world. He begins to suggest that Bodkin draft a report for Camp Byrd, but he finds that Bodkin is gone.
Kerans's personal questions about his own mind make this a particularly intriguing theory for him. This foreshadows how the story’s main characters will gradually shift their attentions from the outside world to the inner world of their own psychology.
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Kerans sits at his desk and pulls out the compass. He wonders why he took it, as he knows he'll be found out and humiliated later. As he looks at it in his hands, he becomes entranced by the idea of "south."
The earth to the south of London is, notably, an inhospitable environment. This creates the sense that accepting neuronics as a valid theory means accepting the end of a human race on earth.
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