The Drowned World

by

J. G. Ballard

Teachers and parents! Struggling with distance learning? Our Teacher Edition on The Drowned World can help.
Strangeman is a pirate and a looter who travels through the drowned European cities collecting lost treasures. Because he's albino, he amasses a cult-like following of African crewmembers who worship him because they believe he's dead. Strangeman magnifies his unsettling image by wearing white much of the time. He also seems to have a peculiar control over a large posse of giant alligators who follow his hydroplane but never harm him. Strangeman develops a way to drain the lagoons that have covered the old cities by using and a system of dams. Draining the cities allows him to loot on foot and collect all manner of treasures. Kerans instinctively dislikes Strangeman. He finds him untrustworthy and believes him to be dangerous. Strangeman is fond of throwing parties during the cool nights in the hopes of attracting Beatrice, but cancels them when Beatrice refuses to come. He doesn't understand why Beatrice, Bodkin, and Kerans give into the dreams, as he says he's far more interested in the 20th century than he is in what happened millions of years ago. He proves himself violent and dangerous when he shoots Bodkin for attempting to re-flood London. After this he captures and holds Beatrice captive, and ties Kerans to a throne while he encourages his crew to torture him. When Colonel Riggs returns to London, he says that Strangeman technically did nothing wrong and can't even be prosecuted for killing Dr. Bodkin. Riggs insists that the UN will certainly grant him a reward for draining the cities. After learning this, Kerans blows up the dam. The ensuing flood kills Strangeman and his crew. If Kerans and his friends represent the supreme and undeniable power of nature, Strangeman represents blind human ambition, as he clings to power by propagating a myth about himself (i.e., that he is dead) and attaches value to the artifacts he loots, suggesting he believes in the possibility of a future for mankind on earth.

Strangeman Quotes in The Drowned World

The The Drowned World quotes below are all either spoken by Strangeman or refer to Strangeman. For each quote, you can also see the other characters and themes related to it (each theme is indicated by its own dot and icon, like this one:
Man vs. Nature Theme Icon
). Note: all page numbers and citation info for the quotes below refer to the Liveright Publishing edition of The Drowned World published in 2013.
Chapter 1 Quotes

Sometimes he wondered what zone of transit he himself was entering, sure that his own withdrawal was symptomatic...of a careful preparation for a radically new environment, with its own internal landscape and logic, where old categories of thought would merely be an encumbrance.

Related Characters: Dr. Robert Kerans, Strangeman
Page Number: 25
Explanation and Analysis:
Chapter 8 Quotes

"Dr. Bodkin, did you live in London as a child? You must have many sentimental memories to recapture, of the great palaces and museums." He added: "Or are the only memories you have pre-uterine ones?"

Related Characters: Strangeman (speaker), Dr. Robert Kerans, Dr. Alan Bodkin, Beatrice Dahl
Related Symbols: The Planetarium
Page Number: 109
Explanation and Analysis:

"The trouble with you people is that you've been here for thirty million years and your perspectives are all wrong. You miss so much of the transitory beauty of life. I'm fascinated by the immediate past--the treasures of the Triassic compare pretty unfavorably with those of the closing years of the Second Millennium."

Related Characters: Strangeman (speaker), Dr. Robert Kerans, Dr. Alan Bodkin, Beatrice Dahl
Page Number: 109
Explanation and Analysis:

Kerans managed to take his eyes off Strangeman's face and glanced at the looted relics.
"They're like bones," he said flatly.

Page Number: 112
Explanation and Analysis:
Chapter 9 Quotes

For some reason the womb-like image of the chamber was reinforced rather than diminished by the circular rows of seats, and Kerans heard the thudding in his ears uncertain whether he was listening to the dim subliminal requiem of his dreams.

Related Symbols: The Planetarium
Page Number: 126
Explanation and Analysis:
Chapter 10 Quotes

Yet he had a further neuronic role, in which he seemed almost a positive influence, holding a warning mirror up to Kerans and obliquely cautioning him about the future he had chosen.

Related Characters: Dr. Robert Kerans, Strangeman
Page Number: 134
Explanation and Analysis:
Chapter 11 Quotes

No longer the velvet mantle he remembered from his descent, it was no a fragmenting cloak of rotting organic forms, like the vestments of the grave. The once translucent threshold of the womb had vanished, its place taken by the gateway to a sewer.

Related Symbols: The Planetarium
Page Number: 147
Explanation and Analysis:

Dimly he realized that the lagoon had represented a complex of neuronic needs that were impossible to satisfy by any other means. This blunting lethargy deepened, unbroken by the violence around him, and more and more he felt like a man marooned in a time sea, hemmed in by the shifting planes of dissonant realities millions of years apart.

Related Characters: Dr. Robert Kerans, Strangeman
Page Number: 148
Explanation and Analysis:
Chapter 13 Quotes

"Colonel, you've got to flood it again, laws or no laws. Have you been down in those streets; they're obscene and hideous! It's a nightmare world that's dead and finished, Strangeman's resurrecting a corpse!"

Related Characters: Dr. Robert Kerans (speaker), Strangeman, Colonel Riggs
Page Number: 180
Explanation and Analysis:
Chapter 14 Quotes

Obscured by the events of the past week, the archaic sun in his mind beat again continuously with its immense power, its identity merging now with that of the real sun visible behind the rain-clouds.

Related Characters: Dr. Robert Kerans, Strangeman
Page Number: 183
Explanation and Analysis:
Get the entire The Drowned World LitChart as a printable PDF.
The Drowned World PDF

Strangeman Character Timeline in The Drowned World

The timeline below shows where the character Strangeman appears in The Drowned World. The colored dots and icons indicate which themes are associated with that appearance.
8. The Man With the White Smile
Memory vs. The Future Theme Icon
Science and Psychology Theme Icon
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... (full context)
Memory vs. The Future Theme Icon
Science and Psychology Theme Icon
Strangeman's mood seems to shift quickly between curiosity, irritation, and boredom. Suddenly, he turns to Dr.... (full context)
Man vs. Nature Theme Icon
Birth, Renewal, and Doom Theme Icon
Kerans notices that Strangeman's face is very white: he's albino, and the fact that he's still so white is... (full context)
Memory vs. The Future Theme Icon
Strangeman then invites them to see his treasure ship. As they approach the ship, Kerans thinks... (full context)
Memory vs. The Future Theme Icon
Birth, Renewal, and Doom Theme Icon
As he watches Strangeman show Beatrice the treasures, Kerans thinks of the Delvaux painting of skeletons. Instantly, Kerans begins... (full context)
9. The Pool of Thanatos
Man vs. Nature Theme Icon
Memory vs. The Future Theme Icon
Birth, Renewal, and Doom Theme Icon
Over the next two weeks, Kerans sees Strangeman frequently while Strangeman drives his hydroplane through the lagoons and supervises his crews of divers... (full context)
Man vs. Nature Theme Icon
Memory vs. The Future Theme Icon
Strangeman invites Kerans, Bodkin, and Beatrice to a diving party. He has already begun to court... (full context)
Man vs. Nature Theme Icon
Memory vs. The Future Theme Icon
Science and Psychology Theme Icon
...Dr. Bodkin, and Beatrice and takes them to the depot ship. Kerans is skeptical of Strangeman's assurance that the lake is free from reptilian pests, but he sees that the lake... (full context)
Man vs. Nature Theme Icon
Strangeman watches the struggle between the alligator and Big Caesar as though he wants the alligator... (full context)
Man vs. Nature Theme Icon
Science and Psychology Theme Icon
Birth, Renewal, and Doom Theme Icon
...telephone transmitter, which he uses to describe walking through the pay-box and then "the church." Strangeman declares the diver a fool and sends others down as Kerans, Beatrice, and Bodkin sip... (full context)
Man vs. Nature Theme Icon
Memory vs. The Future Theme Icon
Science and Psychology Theme Icon
Birth, Renewal, and Doom Theme Icon
Kerans leans over to Bodkin and whispers that Strangeman is looking for his treasure. Strangeman notices them whispering and stalks over to them. Kerans... (full context)
Man vs. Nature Theme Icon
Memory vs. The Future Theme Icon
Science and Psychology Theme Icon
Birth, Renewal, and Doom Theme Icon
Kerans dons the diving suit and Strangeman tells him to try to get into the auditorium. He continues, saying that the suit... (full context)
Man vs. Nature Theme Icon
Birth, Renewal, and Doom Theme Icon
Strangeman checks in with Kerans over the radio, and Kerans begins to move towards the planetarium.... (full context)
Man vs. Nature Theme Icon
Science and Psychology Theme Icon
Suddenly, Kerans sees another suited man and yells for Strangeman. He realizes that it's only his reflection in a mirror, and explains where he is... (full context)
Man vs. Nature Theme Icon
Birth, Renewal, and Doom Theme Icon
Kerans regains consciousness on the bright deck, where the Admiral performing CPR on him. Strangeman's face comes into view, and as Kerans sputters that Strangeman is responsible for what happened,... (full context)
Memory vs. The Future Theme Icon
Science and Psychology Theme Icon
Birth, Renewal, and Doom Theme Icon
...in the planetarium. He wonders if he did indeed try to commit suicide, or if Strangeman had tried to hurt him. Kerans thinks about this for the next few days, and... (full context)
10. Surprise Party
Memory vs. The Future Theme Icon
Science and Psychology Theme Icon
Kerans is rudely awakened by Strangeman yelling from a lower floor of the Ritz. Kerans has begun falling asleep at odd... (full context)
Man vs. Nature Theme Icon
Birth, Renewal, and Doom Theme Icon
Kerans asks how the diving is going, and Strangeman admits that it's not going well. Kerans wonders whether he has enough energy to attend... (full context)
Man vs. Nature Theme Icon
Birth, Renewal, and Doom Theme Icon
When Kerans heads to Strangeman's boat that evening with Big Caesar, the decks are strung with colored lights. Kerans asks... (full context)
Man vs. Nature Theme Icon
Memory vs. The Future Theme Icon
Birth, Renewal, and Doom Theme Icon
...the painting is set on a galleon (a type of boat), and Kerans thinks that Strangeman's party mimics the canvas. He points out the resemblance to Beatrice and suggests that Strangeman... (full context)
Man vs. Nature Theme Icon
Memory vs. The Future Theme Icon
Kerans tries to ask again what the surprise is, but Strangeman declares that Kerans is missing it. Kerans suddenly becomes aware of the sound of air... (full context)
Man vs. Nature Theme Icon
Strangeman and Dr. Bodkin discuss how Strangeman managed to drain the lagoon by damming it, but... (full context)
Memory vs. The Future Theme Icon
...around them and says he must stay, even when Kerans gently reminds him that soon, Strangeman will turn on them. The boat finally hits bottom and Strangeman and his crew debark. (full context)
11. "The Ballad of Mistah Bones"
Memory vs. The Future Theme Icon
Birth, Renewal, and Doom Theme Icon
Beatrice, Kerans, and Dr. Bodkin walk the streets a half hour later. Strangeman and his crew dart off ahead, some of the crew chanting "Mistah Bones" at Kerans.... (full context)
Man vs. Nature Theme Icon
Birth, Renewal, and Doom Theme Icon
...It pursues them onto an open street. Beatrice slips as the angry caiman approaches, but Strangeman appears with the Admiral and Big Caesar and shoots it. Strangeman pulls an algae-covered rhinestone... (full context)
Man vs. Nature Theme Icon
Memory vs. The Future Theme Icon
Science and Psychology Theme Icon
...mind is almost loud enough to mask the sounds of looting and shots fired by Strangeman's crew. Kerans doesn't try to return to the Ritz, as he finds it safer to... (full context)
Man vs. Nature Theme Icon
Science and Psychology Theme Icon
Birth, Renewal, and Doom Theme Icon
Strangeman's crew discovers a shop full of eveningwear preserved in airtight tins, and they all dress... (full context)
Man vs. Nature Theme Icon
Memory vs. The Future Theme Icon
Birth, Renewal, and Doom Theme Icon
One night, Strangeman confides in Kerans that his crew fears him because they think he's dead. Strangeman laughs,... (full context)
Man vs. Nature Theme Icon
Memory vs. The Future Theme Icon
Science and Psychology Theme Icon
Kerans finally runs after Strangeman's crew and watches Strangeman kick the bomb into the neighboring lagoon. The crew then chases... (full context)
Man vs. Nature Theme Icon
Science and Psychology Theme Icon
Beatrice throws herself at Strangeman and promises that she and Kerans won't hurt him. She tears her jewels off, throws... (full context)
12. The Feast of Skulls
Man vs. Nature Theme Icon
Memory vs. The Future Theme Icon
Science and Psychology Theme Icon
Birth, Renewal, and Doom Theme Icon
...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... (full context)
Man vs. Nature Theme Icon
Birth, Renewal, and Doom Theme Icon
...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... (full context)
Man vs. Nature Theme Icon
Memory vs. The Future 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... (full context)
Man vs. Nature Theme Icon
Birth, Renewal, and Doom Theme Icon
...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... (full context)
Man vs. Nature Theme Icon
Memory vs. The Future Theme Icon
Strangeman doesn't send out search parties, and Kerans takes up residence in an apartment building. He... (full context)
Man vs. Nature Theme Icon
Birth, Renewal, and Doom 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... (full context)
Memory vs. The Future Theme Icon
Birth, Renewal, and Doom Theme Icon
...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. (full context)
Memory vs. The Future Theme Icon
Birth, Renewal, and Doom Theme Icon
...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... (full context)
Man vs. Nature Theme Icon
Science and Psychology Theme Icon
Birth, Renewal, and Doom Theme Icon
...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... (full context)
Man vs. Nature Theme Icon
Memory vs. The Future Theme Icon
Science and Psychology 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... (full context)
13. Too Soon, Too Late
Memory vs. The Future Theme Icon
Birth, Renewal, and Doom Theme Icon
Riggs is ready to speak with Kerans by 8:00 the next morning. Strangeman and his crew sit in the shade, supervised by Macready and his machine gun. Riggs... (full context)
Man vs. Nature Theme Icon
Science and Psychology Theme Icon
Kerans asks Riggs why he doesn't arrest Strangeman, and Riggs incredulously reminds Kerans that killing in self-defense is perfectly legal, and states that... (full context)
Man vs. Nature Theme Icon
Memory vs. The Future Theme Icon
Science and Psychology Theme Icon
Kerans asks about the looting, and Riggs says that Strangeman is doing humanity a favor by reclaiming abandoned works of art. He tells Kerans that... (full context)
Man vs. Nature Theme Icon
...everyone is leaving tomorrow, and he's not obsessed with the lagoons. Kerans, confused, says that Strangeman will still be here, and Riggs insists that Strangeman can and should stay if he... (full context)
14. Grand Slam
Man vs. Nature Theme Icon
Memory vs. The Future Theme Icon
Science and Psychology Theme Icon
Birth, Renewal, and Doom Theme Icon
Kerans observes the party going on on Strangeman's ship from an office building. Riggs is still at the party. He and Strangeman came... (full context)
Man vs. Nature Theme Icon
Birth, Renewal, and Doom Theme Icon
...go off, silt and water fly into the air, and water flows into the lagoon. Strangeman's party begins to panic as the water reaches the depot ship, and then the entire... (full context)
Memory vs. The Future Theme Icon
Birth, Renewal, and Doom Theme Icon
...the flooding lagoon and notices the depot ship floating upside down, though he can't see Strangeman or any of the crew. Beatrice asks Kerans where he's going and apologizes for not... (full context)
15. The Paradises of the Sun
Man vs. Nature Theme Icon
Memory vs. The Future Theme Icon
Birth, Renewal, and Doom Theme Icon
...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... (full context)