The Drowned World

The Drowned World Chapter 4 Summary & Analysis

Summary
Analysis
The next day, Lieutenant Hardman disappears. Kerans wakes early, spends an hour gazing at the lagoon, and then dresses in his drill uniform to give the appearance that he's going to leave with Riggs. He realizes he's still undecided on this matter, but he hasn't made any real plans or taken any precautions or preparations to stay. However, Kerans does already have a month's worth of canned food stored at the Ritz, and Beatrice has three months' worth of frozen delicacies at her apartment. The fuel situation is somewhat more serious, as there's only enough fuel to last a month.
By including the reader in a more big-picture view of what's going to happen, Ballard continues to create the sense that the future is foretold and that the characters are moving towards something that's already determined, even if it's not known to them. That Kerans spends so much time staring at the lagoon shows again that he takes a reverent view of nature as something to admire, not to fight against.
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Despite all this, Kerans isn't anxious. He leaves his thermostat at the usual 80 degrees and thinks for a moment that this means he'll go with Riggs, but as he navigates his catamaran towards the base, he realizes that he's indifferent because he has decided to stay behind. He understands that by staying he's giving in to Bodkin's theory of neuronics, and food and clothing will matter little as he goes back in neuronic time.
Now that the decision is made in Kerans's mind, he can go forward with taking active steps to prepare. Further, deciding to stay is a decision to embrace a future that closely resembles the ancient past. Following the theory of neuronics, history isn't just a cycle: the past, the present, and the future all happen simultaneously through the experience of the dreams.
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When he reaches the third lagoon, Kerans stands and watches Macready tow the testing station towards the base. Rather than join the crew, he paddles to Beatrice's apartment. He can see her moving inside through the blinds, and she finally comes outside, looking tired and withdrawn. Beatrice makes herself a drink and goes back inside. When she doesn't return, Kerans goes inside to find her. The air inside is hot and stuffy, and he realizes this is probably the reason for her bad mood.
Beatrice's crabby mood shows that the heat in this new environment is the most consistently dangerous element. It doesn't just cause cancer via direct sun exposure, it causes people to withdraw and feel irritable. This suggests that even if Kerans is going to accept his fate, figuring out how to deal with the high temperatures will be very important to maintaining his sanity.
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Kerans finds Beatrice lounging in bed. He turns down the thermostat and tries to take her whiskey from her. She informs him that the cooling system is broken, and after her dreams last night, she doesn't want to be lectured about her drinking habits. Kerans tells Beatrice to shower and asks her about the nightmares. She mumbles something about "jungle dreams," and tells Kerans that he'll soon be dreaming them too. Kerans again tells her to pour her drink out and goes to fix the generator.
Beatrice talks as though she believes the dreams themselves are inevitable in the new environment—though they seem to be destroying her rather than preparing her for a new life. However, calling the dreams “jungle dreams” reinforces what Bodkin said about them: Beatrice is dream-remembering the jungles of the Triassic period.
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When Kerans returns, Beatrice seems fully recovered and is painting her nails. He tells her that the timing device on the generator's engine was running backwards, but is interrupted by loud noises coming from the base below. Kerans grumbles that Riggs is probably going to leave today in an attempt to catch them off guard, but when he and Beatrice look over the railing, he sees the helicopter circling and a party, including Dr. Bodkin, preparing to get into three boats. When they notice Kerans, Riggs picks up a megaphone and calls for him across the lagoon. Kerans can't make out anything but his name, but the helicopter pilot signals in Morse code to Kerans. Kerans translates for Beatrice that they're picking him up on her roof, and that Lieutenant Hardman has disappeared.
The timing device mirrors Kerans's broken compass: it's doing the exact opposite of what it's supposed to do. The timing device in particular ties back to the theory of neuronics, as the device appears to also be going backwards in time. Here, again, heat is associated with temporal regression. Notably, the cooler temperatures return Beatrice to her normal self. This recalls Bodkin's statement about biological processes being somewhat reversible. Though she still descends through time at night (via the dreams), she can be brought back to the present during the day if the temperatures are cool enough.
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As the helicopter travels over the lagoons, Kerans, Riggs, and Macready scan the water and vegetation below for signs of Hardman. Kerans realizes that they'll be hard-pressed to find Hardman, as the waterways are hard to see from the helicopter. The narrator explains that Hardman's disappearance was discovered at 8:00am, but Riggs believes he left the night before. Riggs thinks that Hardman likely lashed fuel drums together, since none of the small boats are missing. Though crude, such a craft could get him ten miles away from the base by daybreak.
Although Hardman's escape presents a man versus man conflict, as Kerans, Riggs, and Macready search for him, they end up fighting the new environment that seems intent on keeping things hidden. From Hardman's perspective then, the environment is actually a help and not an obstacle, which suggests that, for those who give over to the dreams, the changing environment is not something to resist, but to embrace.
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Riggs finally declares that searching by air is useless. The helicopter lands on top of a cinema. Looking out on the water, Kerans is reminded of how people described Egypt during times of flood. Riggs opens a map and the helicopter pilot, Sergeant Daley, suggests that they conduct searches over specific small areas. Riggs asks Kerans what he thinks, and Kerans says he has no clue as to Hardman's motives. He trails off, lost in thought, as Riggs, Daley, and Macready discuss routes. He waits for Daley to finish saying that Hardman would've gone north before saying that Hardman would've gone south. When Daley says that Hardman would cook going south, Kerans only says that there is no other direction.
Kerans understands now that embracing nature and thinking of it as an ally, as Hardman is doing, means accepting that going north to civilization is unacceptable. The fact that Riggs, Daley, and Macready don't understand this line of reasoning shows that they're still very much thinking of the world as human-centric. They still hope for a civilized future for themselves, so willingly choosing death is inconceivable to them.
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The group hesitates for a moment before getting back in the helicopter and heading south. After searching the southern lagoons for 20 minutes, Riggs concedes that if Hardman wants to evade them, he knows how. Kerans’s eye is drawn to a half-submerged apartment building and what he realizes are footprints in the silt leading to it from the water. He gets Riggs’s attention and points to the footprints.
That Hardman is discovered by his footprints entering a man-made structure continues to develop the opposing relationship between the built world and the natural world. Although the built world is providing shelter, it's not shielding Hardman like the natural world would. The built world, it seems, is no longer his ally.
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On the ground, Riggs and Macready find Hardman's makeshift raft, made with two old tanks and a bed from the sick bay. Riggs praises Kerans for his insight and assures him that Hardman will be glad to see them, but Kerans reminds Riggs that they have to catch him first. Riggs shouts orders at two men to keep an eye on the water and makes a plan for the rest to search the building. Everyone is armed, which Kerans asks about. Riggs explains it's to ward off alligators, and that Hardman has a gun with him too. Riggs yells for Hardman in the megaphone. He yells that Kerans is here, and Kerans’s name echoes off of two clock towers several hundred yards away. The sound and the still clock faces are suddenly terrifying for Kerans.
Kerans is aware that he currently occupies a liminal space between past and future, and between old systems and new systems of thought. Because of this, he has the insight into Hardman's motives, whereabouts, and desires. However, by using this knowledge to assist Riggs in this attempt to recapture Hardman, he denies Hardman the ability to embrace the future represented in his dreams. Kerans's fear shows that he's afraid of being in this timeless state of limbo more than anything, and suggests that he'll have to fully commit soon.
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Riggs, Macready, and Kerans begin to search the building from the lower floors up. With only two floors to go, Riggs’s patience is thin. They stand for a minute and try to catch their breath in the 120-degree heat. Kerans moves off down the hallway to find someplace to sit and he walks into the first apartment. He gazes at the clock faces across the water and notices that one of them is set to 11:35, which is almost the right time. Kerans wonders if the clock is working, and thinks that Riggs sometimes sets clocks before they abandon cities. He watches the clock and sees that it's not actually moving, but wonders if it's just an exceptionally slow clock. Kerans notices a cemetery near the clock tower and remembers a horrific cemetery they found in another city.
The stopped clocks are symbolic of the fact that human time no longer has meaning in this new world. Keeping time using hours and minutes in a forward direction is silly and useless if people are descending millions of years backwards through their memories. This then becomes another example of an old system that has no place in this new world. Rather, the clock towers act as a monument of sorts to how human life used to function—and a reminder that the old world is lost.
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Kerans turns away from the window and notices a tall man with a black beard standing in the doorway behind him. The two men regard each other for a minute. The bearded man is wearing a medical orderly's jacket and an intense expression on his face. Kerans reaches a hand out to him and says "Hardman." Suddenly, the man (Hardman) throws himself at Kerans, just misses colliding with him, and swings over the balcony railing. Riggs enters the apartment moments later and curses. Riggs, Macready, and Kerans run downstairs.
Hardman's reaction here confirms for Kerans that Hardman certainly has no intention of returning to Camp Byrd. This reaction is far too out of character for the dutiful Hardman that Kerans once knew, which shows that the new thought patterns and latent biological urges are turning Hardman into a wholly unrecognizable person. He has experienced his own type of rebirth through this process.
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Riggs pauses at water level and incredulously notes that Hardman is trying to drag his raft back into the water. He's failing miserably in the wet silt. Riggs, Macready, Kerans, and two soldiers surround Hardman in the silt as Hardman continues to wrestle with his raft. Kerans approaches Hardman with Wilson, who used to be Hardman's orderly, when suddenly the helicopter engine roars to life.
Again, Hardman's desperation to continue his odyssey south suggests that returning to human-centric life at the military base is impossible for him given his new thought patterns. Approaching with Wilson is perhaps an attempt to remind Hardman of old connections and relationships.
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Hardman finally seems aware of the group surrounding him. Suddenly, Hardman fires his gun and shoots Wilson in the elbow. Hardman runs for the jungle, pursued by Macready, while Riggs and Kerans help Wilson. When Wilson is stabilized, Kerans runs after Hardman. He follows the soldiers into a small square that's still above water level, and Hardman runs into an open courthouse. Kerans pursues him slowly.
Shooting Wilson is a loud and clear declaration that Hardman in no way intends to return to his recent past. It's possible too that Hardman has completely lost hold of his recent memories and doesn't even remember who Wilson is, which would be a further testament to the power of the dreams and the biological memories.
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The helicopter appears overhead and the noise and the heat beat at Kerans’s brain. The helicopter begins to lose altitude, spins, and the tail rotor hits the courthouse. Daley looks stunned as the helicopter lands on the cobbles. The group settles in the shade, waiting for the high sun to fade. Ten minutes later, Kerans looks out at the square to see Hardman standing in the middle. Macready and Riggs seem like they're asleep and don't notice. Hardman quietly leaves the square and heads for the silt banks, and Kerans finally calls for Riggs’s attention. When Macready looks ready to pursue him, Riggs says to let him go. Kerans thinks that Hardman looks like he's walking directly into the sun.
In Daley's hands, the helicopter is just as dangerous and destructive as the natural world: Daley must grow into his new role as primary helicopter pilot in order to put humans and their tools back at the top of the food chain. The fact that Hardman seems much less bothered by the heat than Kerans and the rest of the crew suggests that the memories change how people experience heat. This opens up the possibility that the biological memories don't just change a person's mind—they might actually alter one's physiology.
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The group sits for two hours on the museum steps in the square. Kerans tries to sleep but can't. A group of iguanas lurks around the square and brays at the men. Their brays fill Kerans with a deep-seated fear that persists even after he's safe at the base. At the base, Kerans finds Dr. Bodkin and briefly mentions the sounds of the iguanas. Bodkin says that Kerans might hear them again, but says nothing about Hardman. Kerans spends the night in the testing station, thinking about Hardman's journey south.
Iguanas as they are today can grow quite large, but they certainly don't bray. The fact that they do after exposure to radiation confirms that the world's changes have indeed shifted the evolutionary path of animals—including, potentially, humans. Kerans's fear again recalls Bodkin's assertion that fear is rooted in instinct, suggesting that Kerans “remembers” when fearing reptiles was important for survival.
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