The Drowned World Critical Essays

J. G. Ballard


(Critical Survey of Science Fiction and Fantasy)

On the surface, The Drowned World is a meticulous scientific projection of the effects of massive global warming. Despite its strangeness, Ballard’s description of the vast rain forest, with its enervating and pervading heat and intense fecundity, is deliberately unremarkable. The real meaning of the novel lies on the psychological level, where Ballard explores the inner changes that interact with the catastrophe.

The effects on the characters are articulated by Bodkin and Kerans. Bodkin suggests that the returning Triassic environment has caused other plants and species to mutate rapidly, moving backward through an awakening of archaic genetic elements. He believes, however, that humans cannot physically adapt to a climate in which they never existed as creatures with brains and consciousness. It is cellular memory that releases the overwhelming dreams of the Sun, its pounding rays beating time with the heart, and imposes the emphatic desire to move southward toward it.

As the novel progresses, human relationships and conflicts have less importance for the central characters. They retreat into dreams, overtaken by their bodies’ cellular recapitulation and unconcerned even with issues of physical survival. Kerans’ suicidal journey south paradoxically contains the promise of imminent death but answers his psychological need to move ever closer to the Sun. A secondary imagery of uterine re-enactment is blended with the...

(The entire section is 550 words.)