Literature Study Guides2001 A Space OdysseyPart 4 Chapters 21 22 Summary

2001: A Space Odyssey | Study Guide

Arthur C. Clarke

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2001: A Space Odyssey | Part 4, Chapters 21–22 : Abyss | Summary



Chapter 21: Birthday Party

Part 4 is called "Abyss" because in it, four of the crew members end up floating—dead—through space, and David Bowman finds himself facing his mission—and the infinity of outer space—alone.

It is Frank Poole's birthday, and he receives a transmission from Earth wishing him a happy one. Shortly afterward, Hal interrupts the "festivities" with the news that "we have a problem." Evidently the AE-35 unit, which keeps an antenna aimed at Earth to maintain radio communication, is malfunctioning. This means Poole will need to go outside the ship, replace the faulty unit, and bring the malfunctioning one inside for diagnosis. Poole and Bowman compose a "reassuring" press release about the extravehicular repair for those on Earth who are following the mission.

Chapter 22: Excursion

Poole puts on a pressure suit and climbs inside a space pod. He pilots the pod out of Discovery and does some minor repairs to its outer hull on his way to the AE-35 unit. Then he exits the pod to make the switch. Attached to the pod by a tether, he replaces the faulty unit with a spare. Hal reports that the new unit is fully functional, and Poole goes back to the ship, "quietly confident that here was one job that need not be done again." The narrator adds that Poole is "sadly mistaken" about this.


Poole's Happy Birthday transmission from Earth recalls the beginning of Part 3, when Discovery's crew was first introduced. Poole and Bowman were feeling distant, both physically and emotionally, from Earth. Here, Poole is having a similar moment of realization, as he considers that the transmission traveled "seven hundred million miles of space at the velocity of light" and that it had been sent over an hour ago. Poole—and presumably Bowman—have moved to a "new dimension of remoteness, and almost all emotional links had been stretched beyond the yield point." In a bit of morbid humor, these thoughts are the "festivities" Hal is sorry to have to interrupt. Once again, the sense of human crew—Poole and Bowman—losing touch with humanity is contrasted with Hal's increasing human-like behavior. Hal feels "sorry." He uses the informal "O.K." to reassure Poole that everything is functional.

At the end of Chapter 22, the omniscient narrator enters the story with the detail that Poole is "sadly mistaken" in his positive outlook. Although the narrator often reveals explanations and details unknown to the characters, it does not as often blatantly foreshadow upcoming conflicts. As a result, ending the chapter by contrasting Poole's quiet confidence in a job well done with the certainty of looming problems shifts the mood from one of excitement and adventure to something much more ominous.

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