Study Questions on 
Arthur C. Clarke's
2001: A Space Odyssey

"Back to 2001" / Part I Primeval Night /
Part II TMA-1 / Part III. Between Planets /
Part IV Abyss / Part V The Moons of Saturn /
Part VI Through the Star Gate 

"Back to 2001", an introductory essay by Clarke

viii: Why does Clarke say that it was so important to outguess the future while planning "2001"?

Do Vergil and Dante also try to do this?

ix: Clarke says that Kubrick wanted to make "a movie about man's place in the universe." Did they succeed? If so, how? How can the same be said about Vergil and Dante?

xiii: How does Clarke suggest history and fiction have been inextricably intertwined in the film?

Part I Primeval Night

Discuss Clarke's use of images of night and light throughout the book.

Discuss Clarke's use of time and memory in Part I.

Chapter 1 The Road to Extinction

Discuss the importance of each of these features associated with Moonwatcher:
the dawning awareness in his dark, deep-set eyes (pg. 4)
his incapability of worrying about more than one thing at a time (pg. 4)
his lack of any real remembrance of the past (pg. 5)

Describe the state of existence of Moonwatcher and his clan.

Why would these qualities put Moonwatcher on the road to extinction?

Discuss the significance of Moonwatcher's name.

Compare Moonwatcher to Adam and to Aeneas. How is he everyman?

Chapter 2 The New Rock

How does Moonwatcher react to the new rock? What does this suggest about him?

How is the sound of the rock important? Why does Clarke associate it with drumming?

What is this rock? What does it do to Moonwatcher? What is the equivalent, if any, of this rock in Aeneid and Inferno?

Chapter 3 Academy

Discuss the significance of the title of this chapter.

How does the rock change Moonwatcher? What new emotions does it instill in him?

Discuss the significance of the following statement: "A hundred failures would not matter, when a single success could change the destiny of the world." (Pg. 17)

What Darwinian features are evident in the technique used by the rock?

Chapter 4 Leopard

What tools does the rock give to Moonwatcher?

Discuss the significance of Moonwatcher's decision to drag the dead antelope into his cave and of the killing of the leopard. How are these events critical steps in the development of Moonwatcher? Why does Moonwatcher "rightly sense that his whole world has changed and that he was no longer a powerless victim of the forces around him"?

Compare Clarke's use of the leopard to Dante's.

Chapter 5 Encounter in the Dawn

What is missing in Moonwatcher's world?

Is Moonwatcher's encounter with the Others a positive or a negative development?

Chapter 6 Ascent of Man

How does Clarke suggest that the toolmakers have been made by their own tools?

Why is man living on borrowed time?

Discuss the significance of the title of this chapter. What literary reference is it making.

Part II TMA-1

How accurate are Clarke's predictions of the future in regard to advances in human technology in chapters 7-9?

How does Clarke use the term TMA-1 to develop suspense?

Compare the reactions of the humans in Parts I and II to their encounters with the monolith.

Chapter 7 Special Flight

Discuss the significance of the statement that "these things belonged to the past, and he [Floyd] was flying into the future" (pg. 36).

What is the political situation on earth as Floyd is traveling to the moon? How does this relate to events in Part I? How accurate are these predictions?

Why does Floyd think about a quotation of Leonardo da Vinci as his flight begins? How is this quote prophetic? How does it relate to the plot?

Chapter 8 Orbital Rendezvous

Clarke measures distance in miles in this chapter. How is this appropriate? How is it inappropriate? In terms of recent (1999-2000) events in space, how is it ironic?

What part of earth does Floyd see from the ship? Relate this to Part I.

How do earth-bound political situations affect life on the space station?

Chapter 9 Moon Shuttle

Study Floyd's reflections on advances in vehicles in human communication on pg. 52. Who were Gutenberg and Caxton? What relationship does Floyd see between advances in print media and its content?

Discuss Floyd's meditation on the moonscape. Why does Clarke say "Here was age inconceivable-but not death, for the Moon had never lived-until now" (pg. 54).

Chapter 10 Clavius Base

Compare human life on the moon to human life in Part I and to life on earth in 2000. What advances does life on the moon have? What disadvantages? Who are the Spaceborn? How are they different from the Earthborn?

Discuss the following statement: "This was not art for art's sake, but art for the sake of sanity" (pg. 57). What is the difference between the two kinds of art? How does this compare to art as it is known today?

"After ten thousand years, man had at last found something as exciting as war" (pg. 58). What does Clarke suggest as the futuristic substitute for war? Does human history agree or disagree with him?

Chapter 11 Anomaly

Discuss the title of this chapter as an example of bureaucratic jargon, of circumlocution, and of the human condition as it is presented by Clarke.

Discuss the significance of the name of the crater in which the monolith is found.

Chapter 12 Journey by Earthlight

What hypotheses are formed about the monolith in this chapter?

Why does Floyd compare the monolith to Pandora's Box? Is the comparison appropriate?

Chapter 13 The Slow Dawn

What does Clarke mean by the statement "All futures must now contain this possibility" (pg. 77)? Discuss this statement in terms of millennial concepts of prophecy and futurism.

Chapter 14 The Listeners

How do events in this chapter precipitate what happens in the rest of the book? How are they connected with Part I?

Part III. Between Planets

Chapter 15 Discovery

To what does the title refer? How is it significant in terms of the plot of the book and the actual history of space exploration?

What do you learn from Bowman's thought processes as he emerges from hibernation? How does Clarke confuse time in this chapter? Why does he doe this?

Chapter 16 Hal

Discuss Clarke's futuristic description of the history of computers. How accurate is it? What relationship between human and machine does it suggest? How does this relate to the relationship between humans and tools described in Part I?

Chapter 17 Cruise Mode

Describe the daily routine of Bowman and Poole. How would this compare to life on earth? Are there any modern equivalents?

Chapter 18 Through the Asteroids

What does the procedure regarding the asteroid have to do with the plot of the book?

In this chapter Clarke compares Bowman and Poole to ancient seafarers. Why?

Chapter 19 Transit of Jupiter

Why does Bowman listen to Jupiter's radiation? What does it sound like to him?

Why do Bowman and Poole think that the one-hour blackout between Discovery and earth as "one of the longest in their lives" (pg. 111)?

Discuss this comment by Clarke: "The time had not yet come when Man could leave his mark upon the Solar System" (pg. 112).

Chapter 20 The World of the Gods

What is the world of the gods? Why?

Discuss Clarke's use of Greek mythology in this chapter.

Part IV Abyss

Chapter 21 Birthday Party

How does Poole's birthday party emphasize "the new dimension of remoteness" in which Poole and Bowman live?

Chapter 22 Excursion

Describe the relationship between Poole and Hal in this chapter? How is it ominous?

Chapter 23 Diagnosis

In this chapter Clarke says that Bowman and Poole considered Hal their colleague. How does this affect the way they talk about and deal with the communication crisis?

Chapter 24 Broken Circuit

How is Hal's personality developed in chapters 24-26?

Do you think that a computer can have a personality? Why or why not?

Chapter 25 First Man to Saturn

Discuss the significance of Poole's gesture as his body floats away from Discovery.

Chapter 26 Dialogue with Hal

How do both Bowman and Hal react to Poole's death? How does this event affect Bowman's relationship with Hal?

Why was it utterly irrational to Bowman that Hal might murder Poole? Compare this feeling to the first human acts of violence in Part I.

What is Bowman's first real hint of Hal's mutiny? Why?

What does Clarke mean by Bowman's "virtual symbiosis with the ship" (pg. 150)? Comment specifically on his use of the word "symbiosis".

Chapter 27 "Need to Know"

What is suggested as the cause of Hal's failure? Why might this cause his circuits to blow? What significance might this have for human existence?

Find places in this chapter where Hal is described in anthropomorphic terms.

Chapter 28 In Vacuum

Clarke emphasizes Bowman's isolation from humanity in this chapter yet he says on pg. 156 that "in one very real sense, he was not alone. Before he could be safe, he must be lonelier still." What are the implications of this statement?

Describe Bowman's feelings and thoughts as he disconnects Hal's memory.

What do we learn about Hal as he is disconnected?

Discuss the "multiple redundancy of Hal's design" in terms of its human implications.

Chapter 29 Alone

From whose perspective is the Discovery described in this chapter? Why do you think Clarke chooses this point of view here?

Chapter 30 The Secret

What does Bowman learn from Floyd in this chapter? How does this knowledge change the terms of his voyage?

Part V The Moons of Saturn

Chapter 31 Survival

Why are the dimensions of the moon's monolith so significant?

Why is panic described in this chapter as a form of dehumanization?

Chapter 32 Concerning E.T.'s

Discuss and classify the various scientific theories about extraterrestrial creatures. Which is the most scientific? Which anthropomorphic? Which religious? What do you think?

Comment upon Clarke's description of the human body as "a bizarre piece of improvisation" (pg. 179).

In what way could the conflict between mind and machine "be resolved in the eternal truce of complete symbiosis" (pg. 180)? Do you think there is a conflict between mind and machine?

Chapter 33 Ambassador

Why is Bowman described as an "Ambassador Extraordinary-Plenipotentiary for all mankind" (pg. 181)?

Discuss Bowman's inability to tolerate silence. Why is silence so troubling to him? How does he deal with this?

Discuss the role of music in Bowman's solitary life (see pg. 182). Compare this music to the music used in the film.

Chapter 34 Orbiting Ice

What is the origin of the names of the moons of Saturn? How is Japetus special?

How accurate is Clarke's description of Saturn and its moons based upon current scientific knowledge?

Chapter 35 The Eye of Japetus

How does Bowman anthropomorphize Japetus? What is the significance of this anthropomorphism?

Chapter 36 Big Brother

Who is speaking in this chapter? To whom? Why does Clarke use this technique?

To what object does Bowman apply the term "big brother"? Why? Do you think there may be a literary reference here? If so, what is the significance of this reference?

Chapter 37 Experiment

What is the experiment to which this chapter title refers?

What does this suggest about the identity of humankind and its place in the universe?

What is the Stargate? How is this term borrowed in modern cinema and science fiction?

What implications does this chapter pose about Darwin's theory of evolution, Christianity and other forms of religion, deity, etc.?

Who are the scientists in this experiment? How does Clarke describe them and their goals? How are they similar to and different from both humans and machines?

Chapter 38 The Sentinel

Why are there two perspectives in this chapter? What effect does this create for the reader?

Chapter 39 Into the Eye

What is your reaction to Bowman's frame of mind at the beginning of this chapter? How would you feel if you were in his space suit?

What happens at the end of this chapter? What information does Earth receive?

Chapter 40 Exit

How does this short chapter develop the themes of time, isolation, and knowledge?

Part VI Through the Star Gate

Chapter 41 Grand Central

How does this chapter deal with the physical concepts of space and time?

Describe Bowman's journey through the Star Gate. What are some of the things he sees?

Why does he think he passing through a Grand Central Station of the galaxy? Where is the earthly Grand Central Station?

Chapter 42 Alien Sky

What are some of the alien celestial objects Bowman encounters in this chapter? Focus especially on the White Dwarf. To what earthly objects does Clarke compare it? Why?

Chapter 43 Inferno

What is this inferno? Can it be related to Dante's?

What strange new phenomenon does Bowman notice on the star? What does he think it is?

Chapter 44 Reception

Where does Bowman land? What familiar objects does he find? How does he realize that these objects are not real?

What thought cross through Bowman's mind as he inspects these surroundings?

How did Bowman's hosts learn about these earthly objects? How was he literally on a movie set?

Chapter 45 Recapitulation

What happens to Bowman after he falls asleep? Compare what happens to him to what he did to Hal.

How is time an important aspect of this chapter?

Chapter 46 Transformation

In what ways does this chapter link with Part I?

What happens to Bowman in this chapter? With what does he interact? How does Clarke describe his interactor? What other words can we use?

Discuss the weaving metaphor of this chapter.

How is this chapter an example of religious or heroic death and rebirth?

What is the significance of the quadratic sequence 1:4:9?

What fear does Bowman feel in this chapter? How is it alleviated? Where is he at the end of the chapter?

Chapter 47 Star Child

Identify this star child. What does it mean?

How is this book open-ended? Compare this ending to those of the Aeneid and of the Inferno.


This material was prepared by Prof. Tom Sienkewicz for his students in Honors 210 "Reading Through the Millennia" at Monmouth College. If you have any questions about this material, you can contact him at