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Themes in 2001: A Space Odyssey by Arthur C. Clarke

written by: Trent Lorcher • edited by: SForsyth • updated: 2/14/2012

Prepare for a discussion of 2001: A Space Odyssey themes to impress aliens on their next visit.

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    2001: A Space Odyssey Themes: The Dangers of Technology

    Arthur C. Clarke isn't the first to write about the dangers of technology. He may have, however, created the most chilling technological character in all of literature.

    1. Hal - Humans create a computer without fully understanding its inner workings; the results are horrifying as the Hal 9000 computer runs over Frank with a space pod, opens the space hatch, lets three astronauts get sucked out into space, and tries to kill David Bowman, the protagonist, all without realizing he's done anything wrong. Hal represents human's over reliance on technology.
    2. Nuclear Weapons - Clarke explores the human tendency to destroy themselves, in this case, through nuclear weapons. Bowman fully realizes the silliness of political disputes as he is exposed to the majesty of the Universe, and although Bowman is able to prevent a nuclear holocaust at the end of the novel, the odds of a man turned omnipotent spirit in the real world saving the planet are slim.
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    2001: A Space Odyssey Themes: The Magnitude of the Universe

    The Monolith 

    David Bowman realizes the parochial nature of political disputes as he travels through a gate/space warp and arrives millions of light years from Earth. The thought that there were political entities on Earth involved in boundary and ideological disputations seemed ridiculous as he traveled among stars unseen by even the most powerful human telescope.

    The intellectual capacity of the aliens who placed the black, rectangular object among Neanderthals, on the moon, and throughout the Universe demonstrate the inconsequential technological and intellectual achievements of man, something Bowman realizes, albeit doesn't understand. Even the ability to travel hundreds of millions of miles through space--remember that when the novel was written, man had not yet reached the moon--paled in comparison to the achievements of the unknown alien species.

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    2001: A Space Odyssey Themes: Evolution/Progress of Humans

    The novel begins, not in a futuristic society, but three million years in the past. The novel traces man's evolution/development through prehistoric times, up to the present time, and into the future. Here's a quick recap:

    1. Prehistoric humans lead miserable lives. Most starve. They live in constant fear. One day a 1 x 4 x 9 object is planted in their midst and sends signals that give the prehistoric creatures sub conscious messages of a better life. Unconscious actions combined with luck lead to human survival.
    2. It is now the near future. Humans have evolved intellectually and technologically. Bases exist on the moon. A 1 x 4 x 9 object is discovered. Scientists uncover it. It sends a mysterious signal that alarms Earth governments.
    3. Exactly how much time transpires between the discovery of the black monolith and the mission to Saturn is not clear. More than likely, it's approximately a decade. Humans have created a computer with intelligence.
    4. David Bowman's transformation from human being to energy/spirtitual entity sheds light on what future evolution may have in store.
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    Clarke, Arthur C. 2001: A Space Odyssey. Penguin Books. New York. 1999.

    Public Domain Image courtesy of Wikimedia Commons.

2001: A Space Odyssey Study Guide

Don't be lost in space, read this study guide.
  1. Themes in 2001: A Space Odyssey by Arthur C. Clarke
  2. 2001: A Space Odyssey Characters
  3. 2001: A Space Odyssey Explained