The Drowned World


J. G. Ballard

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The Broken Compass Symbol Analysis

The Broken Compass Symbol Icon

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.

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The Broken Compass Symbol Timeline in The Drowned World

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
Science and Psychology Theme Icon
...explosive gas. Kerans gets down to inspect the gas further and picks up a broken compass, which points south. (full context)
Science and Psychology Theme Icon
Kerans leaves the armory with the compass. A sudden thought enters his mind of blowing up the base and testing station, and... (full context)
Man vs. Nature Theme Icon
Memory vs. The Future Theme Icon
Science and Psychology Theme Icon
...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... (full context)
Birth, Renewal, and Doom Theme Icon
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... (full context)
15. The Paradises of the Sun
Memory vs. The Future Theme Icon
Science and Psychology Theme Icon
Birth, Renewal, and Doom Theme Icon help him up to follow the sun. The man's hand opens to reveal a compass, and the man tells Kerans to sleep while he keeps watch. Kerans opens his medical... (full context)