The Drowned World

by

J. G. Ballard

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The Drowned World: Chapter 8 Summary & Analysis

Summary
Analysis
Kerans, Dr. Bodkin, and Beatrice sit with the hydroplane pilot, Strangeman, who has changed into a crisp white suit. He sits in a gold Renaissance throne and Kerans thinks he has a disturbing and menacing air to him, despite his show of kindness to them by giving them food. Strangeman presses his guests to tell him when they plan on leaving London, and is extremely perplexed when Kerans and Bodkin explain that they hope to stay on forever, and believe that they're "re-assimilating their own biological pasts."
Even if Strangeman doesn't fully grasp the reasoning behind Kerans and Bodkin wanting to stay in London, he's certainly met others in the lagoons and is aware that the heat in particular affects people's mental health. The Renaissance throne is an ostentatious piece, and an indicator that Strangeman places value on displays of wealth and luxury objects.
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Strangeman's mood seems to shift quickly between curiosity, irritation, and boredom. Suddenly, he turns to Dr. Bodkin and asks if he grew up in London and seeks to recapture memories, or if his only memories are "pre-uterine." This question alarms Kerans, but Bodkin absentmindedly waves a hand and declares that the recent past isn't interesting. Strangeman replies that he's fascinated with the immediate past, which he finds far more interesting than the Triassic era. Turning to Beatrice, Strangeman notes that she looks melancholic and tired. Beatrice insists that they're often tired, and that she doesn't like the alligators. Strangeman assures her that the alligators won't hurt them.
Strangeman grasps that there's some conflict between Bodkin's biological memories and his lived memories. By insisting that the recent past isn't interesting, Bodkin shows that even if he does find value in his childhood memories, those ingrained, instinctual memories are far more important. They are the ones that will lead him on his neuronic journey, not the memories of London. Strangeman confirms that he values material goods; this again shows that he's invested in a future for mankind.
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Kerans notices that Strangeman's face is very white: he's albino, and the fact that he's still so white is an anomaly, as Kerans’s sunburn has made him nearly as dark as Strangeman's black crew. Strangeman introduces the Admiral, one of his crewmembers, to the group and insists that if they ever can't find him, they can speak with the Admiral.
The sun and heat don't just trigger the biological memories—they're also homogenizing the population by darkening skin across the board. This turns Strangeman into an almost supernatural figure (because of his albinism) as he alone seems to have the power to resist the sun's rays.
Themes
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Strangeman then invites them to see his treasure ship. As they approach the ship, Kerans thinks it was probably once a gambling establishment. Now, it's filled with crates and cartons and fragments of statuary. Strangeman leads them into an inner storeroom, which is filled with altarpieces, bronze statuary, small treasures, and other gold items. Strangeman points to several items and says they came from the Sistine Chapel, but Bodkin mutters to Kerans that the "treasures" are ugly, and don't even have a high gold content. He wonders what Strangeman is actually up to.
Again, many of the pieces Strangeman collects, and particularly those from the Sistine Chapel, are from the Italian Renaissance, a time of prolific artistic production. Strangeman doesn't just value human accomplishments as a whole; he values items that symbolize and reference the golden age of humanity. In the greater scheme of the earth, however, these pieces are meaningless—hence Bodkin's suspicion.
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As he watches Strangeman show Beatrice the treasures, Kerans thinks of the Delvaux painting of skeletons. Instantly, Kerans begins to dislike Strangeman. Strangeman turns and asks Kerans what he thinks of the treasures, and Kerans replies that they're like bones. Strangeman is incredulous, and the Admiral begins dancing and chanting about bones. Kerans turns to leave, and Strangeman pushes him out. Kerans, Beatrice, and Bodkin leave in a small boat five minutes later. The crew is still chanting and dancing, and Strangeman waves coolly at the retreating boat.
Now both of Beatrice's paintings have manifested in the real world. Kerans's dislike may have been triggered by the painting, but what he's already seen of Strangeman makes it very clear that Strangeman stands for a future that's in direct opposition to the one he himself hopes for. Strangeman then becomes the enemy, particularly since he's so upset about Kerans's bones comment.
Themes
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