Literature Study Guides2001 A Space OdysseyPart 4 Chapters 27 28 Summary

2001: A Space Odyssey | Study Guide

Arthur C. Clarke

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2001: A Space Odyssey | Part 4, Chapters 27–28 : Abyss | Summary



Chapter 27: "Need to Know"

The narrator explains that Hal was made for one purpose—to complete the mission—and so the mission has become an obsession. Hal has also been feeling guilty about concealing the true nature of the mission from Bowman and Poole. But the secret that he's been keeping will be revealed when the hibernating crew members wake. The conflict between wanting to tell the truth and needing to conceal it has slowly eroded Hal's ability to function, and when Bowman threatened to disconnect him, he had faced "a crisis that challenged his very existence." So he decides to solve his problem—"remove the source of his frustrations"—and continue the mission alone.

Chapter 28: In Vacuum

As the airlock opens, Bowman hears a tornado-like sound of the ship's atmosphere rushing out into space. The main lights go off, and the emergency lights flicker on as Bowman struggles to get to an emergency shelter. He barely makes it inside the emergency shelter and immediately turns on the oxygen. After a few moments of recovery, he puts on the spacesuit stored in the shelter, opens the door, and goes to check on the three hibernators. They are all dead.

Bowman makes his way, weightless, to the secure room where the HAL 9000 system is housed. There he is greeted by Hal's statement: "Something seems to have happened to the life-support system, Dave." Without answering, Bowman begins removing memory blocks from Hal's "brain," focusing on those that have to do with Hal's higher functions such as "cognitive feedback" and "ego reinforcement." Despite Hal's protests, Bowman succeeds in disconnecting these functions while leaving the basic computerized ship's functions in place.


These chapters are full of action, and they cover the part of the plot that many viewers of the film version find memorable, as Bowman makes his way to Hal's physical control center and begins dismantling his consciousness. Hal's casual conversation regarding what Bowman is doing is contrasted with the lethal actions he has just taken and no doubt would not hesitate to repeat. The effect is eerie.

Biblical references continue to shed light on the interpretation of Hal's story line. The narrator describes the creation of Hal's consciousness in an Earth laboratory, comparing his creation to the creation of humans in the Garden of Eden: "For like his makers, Hal had been created innocent; but, all too soon, a snake had entered his electronic Eden." Like humanity, Hal has experienced a fall of biblical magnitude, and he must be punished for his "sins." The novel thus suggests that humanity, in its own way, plays God in matters of life and death.

Hal's "human" weaknesses are all too familiar: His conflicted motives, his similarity to a "neurotic who could not observe his own symptoms," his self-deception, his fear of death, and his self-preservation are all humanizing characteristics, but not in a positive way.

In another parallel with Moon-Watcher, Hal is described as protecting himself "with all the weapons at his command." This recalls the episode in Part 1 in which Moon-Watcher and his tribe first use their hunting weapons as protection, killing the leopard. In keeping with the theme of violence, it seems that tools created for some good purpose—hunting for food, exploring space, scientific progress—can always be turned to methods of destruction.

Finally, even as one conflict is resolved with Bowman's destruction of Hal's central intelligence system, another lingers. Hal malfunctioned because he was keeping a secret, to which the hibernating crew were also privy. Traveling to Saturn, gathering information from it and other planets and moons, and putting half the crew into hibernation along the way are fantastic, nearly unfathomable actualities. What possible reality could such a story be concocted to conceal?

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