When Kerans steals a compass from the armory—an action that the narrator says is out of character for him—it's the first clue that something isn't quite right with him, and that the way he thinks about himself is changing. The compass itself is broken, such that it points south instead of north. Because of this, the compass becomes a symbol for the characters’ seemingly irrational desire to head south despite the inhospitable nature of the climate south of London. On a deeper level, the broken compass symbolizes the new world order, in which humans are no longer the dominant species on earth. The compass suggests that the characters must break from their normal ways of thinking and accept that science as they know it is no longer useful. Instead, they must adopt new ways of thinking, like Dr. Bodkin's theory of neuronics, to guide them—and, eventually, follow the needle of the broken compass south.
The timeline below shows where the symbol The Broken Compass appears in The Drowned World. The colored dots and icons indicate which themes are associated with that appearance.
3. Towards a New Psychology
15. The Paradises of the Sun