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2001: A Space Odyssey | Study Guide

Arthur C. Clarke

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2001: A Space Odyssey | Quotes


The forehead was low ... yet he unmistakably held in his genes the promise of humanity.

Narrator, Part 1, Chapter 1

This description of the prehistoric ancestor of humanity points out that while the alien technology helped human evolution along, the potential for that evolution was already there. This is an important point, because it means that the advanced aliens who make the monoliths were not creating more evolved races, but only identifying those that had that potential already and helping them along.


The man-apes were the first to look steadfastly at the Moon.

Narrator, Part 1, Chapter 1

Looking at the moon is presented as a defining characteristic of humanity. In the man-apes, it is a clue that they are beginning to become human. This ties into the focus—in both the novel and in 1960s America—on putting humans on the moon as an important step in the development of space flight and innate curiosity as a sign of advanced life.


Discontent had come into his soul, and he had taken one small step toward humanity.

Narrator, Part 1, Chapter 3

Alongside the importance of human curiosity and desire to explore and learn, the influence of envy and discontent is presented as an intrinsic part of humanity. That envy and competition are driving forces of human innovation should not be ignored. This novel asks whether humans can leave violence and envy and all the darker impulses behind and still be human.


The toolmakers had been remade by their own tools.

Narrator, Part 1, Chapter 6

In using the rudimentary tools revealed to them by the alien "New Rock," the man-apes developed greater fine-motor control, which ultimately led to their ability to make and use better tools. The process of evolution then becomes not just a biological process, but a back-and-forth between biological being and technological innovation. This emphasizes the important role of technology—not just in the development of civilization, but in the evolutionary development of the human animal.


Man had acquired a past; and he was beginning to grope toward a future.

Narrator, Part 1, Chapter 6

The narrator describes the development of language as instrumental in the ability of humans to have "victory over Time." Humanity, with language, can reach into the past, through passed-down memory, and into the future, through shared imagination and ideas. Thus, knowledge passed from generation to generation and memories passed down from parent to child are a kind of early immortality. The narrator notes that this victory is only the "first," foreshadowing a greater victory to come.


After ten thousand years, Man had at last found something as exciting as war.

Narrator, Part 2, Chapter 10

The idea that exploring space, or even pursuing scientific knowledge rather than conquest, could substitute for war is one of the more hopeful messages of the novel.


But with that knowledge there came again an aching awareness of the immensity of Time.

Narrator, Part 2, Chapter 12

With the discovery that the monolith is 3,000,000 years old, the scientists who study it feel overwhelmed. The knowledge that the monolith is evidence of alien intelligent life, but which had passed this way millions of years ago, changes their perspective. Somehow, knowing that alien beings exist has the effect of making them feel more alone, for a time.


It was the mark of a barbarian to destroy something one could not understand.

Narrator, Part 2, Chapter 12

This quotation goes on to say "but perhaps men were barbarians," referring to the human tendency to resort to destruction at times, and also suggesting that humans have a ways to go in evolution before they set their barbarian ways firmly in the past. Certainly, the novel presents humanity as very undeveloped in contrast with the advanced alien culture.


Hal could pass the Turing test with ease.

Narrator, Part 3, Chapter 16

The Turing test was proposed by Alan Turing to help define intelligence. If, during the test, a person cannot distinguish human and computer responses, the computer is said to have passed the Turing test and can be considered intelligent. The test corresponds in some respects to the human's development of language.


Hal ... is something bothering you—something that might account for this problem?

David Bowman, Part 4, Chapter 24

David Bowman begins to suspect that something is bothering Hal, and that whatever is bothering him might be causing Hal to make mistakes or malfunction in some other way. In addition, Bowman treats Hal as a fellow person—a rather sensitive one—emphasizing Hal's human qualities.


He was only aware of the conflict ... —the conflict between truth, and concealment of truth.

Narrator, Part 4, Chapter 27

Hal is self-aware enough to understand the conflict going on inside himself, and to realize its destructive effects, but he does not have the ability to stop the chain of events that lead to his mental breakdown. This again shows Hal's humanity and brings up the fact that being aware of a problem does not always mean you can solve it.


You hide a Sun-powered device in darkness—only ... to know when it is brought ... into the light.

Dr. Heywood Floyd, Part 4, Chapter 30

Dr. Floyd tells David Bowman that when they uncovered the moon monolith and it sent its signal in response to sunlight, they deduced that the monolith was an alarm that triggered when humans achieved spaceflight. This emphasizes that the aliens that made the monoliths are watching and waiting for a response to their signal. It also suggests that they established not one, but many, throughout the universe. Each potential star-faring race was given such an alarm.


But he had not passed beyond curiosity.

Narrator, Part 5, Chapter 33

After the death of most of the Discovery's crew, David Bowman feels lonely and, at times, overwhelmed. He copes with this feeling by adhering strictly to daily rituals. Yet, even under these circumstances, he still carries that characteristic human curiosity, and a sense of expectation and excitement about what awaits.


The thing's hollow—it goes on forever—and—oh my God!—it's full of stars!

David Bowman, Part 5, Chapter 39

As the Star Gate opens, David Bowman sees inside, into the infinite reaches of space and time. Although he does not yet realize it, the stars he sees are the aliens that have been manipulating evolution and his voyage of discovery. These are the last words he speaks before entering the gate, and the last words he transmits to those on Earth.


For though he was master of the world, he was not quite sure what to do next. But he would think of something.

Narrator, Part 6, Chapter 47

At the end of the novel, David Bowman has been changed into an immortal Star Child, and in his new form he is able to return of his own will to "real" space. Emerging near Earth, his original home, he casually detonates a nuclear weapon high above Earth before considering what else he will do with his new power.

This moment is parallel to a moment in Moon-Watcher's life, after the man-ape has killed One-Ear, his rival, and considers the new power he has as a result: "Now he was master of the world, and he was not quite sure what to do next.

"But he would think of something."

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