2001: A Space Odyssey Literary Elements

2001: A Space Odyssey Literary Elements


Science fiction novel

Setting and Context

The novel starts in prehistoric times, when men were more like apes and less like the intelligent beings they developed into in the future. Then, the action moves into the future, in the year 2001 and the action takes place both on earth and in the space.

Narrator and Point of View

The story is told from a third person’s point of view and from an objective perspective.

Tone and Mood

Tragic, frightful, sad, melancholic

Protagonist and Antagonist

The protagonists are the humans on Earth and the antagonists are the alien beings living on one of Saturn’s moons.

Major Conflict

The major conflict is between the humans on Earth and between the alien beings that helped them grow.


The story reaches its climax when Bowman discovers a stone formation similar to the one found on Earth on one of Saturn’s moons


In the first chapter, an ape-man sees a bright light passing through the sky. The bright light foreshadows the exploration of the space that will later take place in the novel and the appearance of the mysterious rock.


In chapter 22, Poole goes outside the spaceship to solve a problem that accrued unexpectedly. At the end of the chapter, Poole thinks that he solved the problem and that no other difficulties will arise. This is an understatement as in the next chapter it is proved that he was wrong.


The 36th chapter is entitles Big Brother and it describes Bowman’s discovery of another strange rock, similar to the one found on Earth but this time on one of Saturn’s moons. The title can be considered as being an allusion to another dystopian novel written by George Orwell and who imagined society being ruled by an invisible person called Big Brother who sees everything and knows everything. By using this allusion, the author implies that just like Big Brother watched humanity’s every move from the shadows, so did the aliens who gave humans their intelligence.


While traveling towards Saturn, Bowman tries to imagines how the aliens will look like. He imagines then as humans, as immortal robots and then as gods. When he passes by Saturn’s rings, it is implied that maybe the aliens destroyed some kind of spaceship and that the rings were just debris from the formations destroyed by the same aliens who may have given humans intelligence. Thus, by offering all these details, the author portrays the possible aliens as being both creators and destroyers, changing from benevolent Gods to ruthless killers.


In chapter 27, Hall’s reason for killing the crew members is revealed. Hall was given a mission that was kept a secret from the other crew members and he was determined to see it through even if that would mean killing every human on the ship. Hall is a supercomputer built by humans and because of this, it is paradoxical and ironical to see the invention kill its creator.


In the first chapter, the rock made the ape-men see visions of families composed of only four members. The four member family is a parallel to what was considered ideal in the time when the novel was written. By including this idea in the novel, the author made it more accessible and relatable to the modern reader.

Metonymy and Synecdoche



At the end of the first part of the novel: ‘’The spear, the bow, the gun, and finally the guided missile had given him weapons of infinite range and all but infinite power. (…) Into them he (man) had put his heart and soul, and for ages they had served him well.’’

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