The Children of Men

by P. D. James
Start Free Trial

The Children of Men Summary

The Children of Men is a 1992 novel by P. D. James.

  • The book is set in the year 2021, in a world where the human race has become inexplicably infertile—a phenomenon known as “the Omega.”
  • The story follows Theo Faron, a professor of history at Oxford University, as he becomes involved with a group of dissidents who are trying to overthrow the dictatorial regime that has arisen in the wake of the Omega.

Summary

Download PDF PDF Page Citation Cite Share Link Share

Last Updated on October 26, 2018, by eNotes Editorial. Word Count: 1644

Book One: Omega

The Children of Men opens as Dr. Theodore Faron, a professor of history at Oxford, writes the first entry in his diary. The year is 2021 and it has been twenty-six years since the last human baby was born. After the year 1995, the entire human race became inexplicably infertile—a phenomenon known as “the Omega.” The last generation of children—born in 1995—are called “Omegas” and are notable for their beauty, viciousness, and contempt for the older generations. Having given up hope of defeating the Omega, mankind has entered a nearly universal state of depression, causing many countries to fall into chaos and disarray.

See eNotes Ad-Free

Start your 48-hour free trial to get access to more than 30,000 additional guides and more than 350,000 Homework Help questions answered by our experts.

Get 48 Hours Free Access

Theo’s cousin, Xan Lypiatt, has risen to power and styles himself the “Warden of England,” though he is actually a dictator. Xan and his Council control the depressed and aging population by promising them security and comfort. In the wake of the Omega, Xan managed to keep the country from descending into chaos by implementing a series of new policies. Compulsory sperm testing and gynecological examinations of healthy men and women are conducted in an increasingly futile attempt to find fertile individuals. The elderly are encouraged to participate in mass, government-run suicide ceremonies called “Quietus” so that they will not become burdensome to the aging population that remains. Omegas from poor countries—called Sojourners—are imported to provide labor in England and deported when they reach the age of sixty. Meanwhile, anyone convicted of a violent crime is sent away to a remote island penal colony with no hope of return.

Theo lives a solitary and somewhat boring life as a professor to now mostly middle-aged students. He once had a wife, but she left him after he accidentally killed their infant daughter. Theo admits that he never truly felt love for his wife and daughter and does not actually believe he has the ability to love. He recalls his childhood, during which he spent summers with his cousin Xan. Both boys were similar in their intelligence and their inability to form strong emotional bonds with other people, though Theo went into academia, while Xan ventured into politics. Theo reflects that he, like everyone who met Xan, could sense that Xan was destined for greatness.

One day, Theo is approached by a young woman and former student, Julian. She introduces him to a group of dissidents led by her husband, Rolf. The group’s three other members are Miriam, a former midwife; Luke, a former priest; and Gascoigne, a young man. Though Rolf clearly distrusts Theo, the rest of the group explains that they want to use his connection to Xan to voice their concerns about his regime. Theo replies that while he once acted as an advisor to Xan, he resigned several years ago and has not communicated with him since. The group tells Theo that they want to approach the Warden peacefully before they take more drastic action to have their demands met. Specifically, they want Xan to call for a free election, end the Quietus, provide civil rights for Sojourners, shut down the penal colony, and put an end to compulsory sperm testing and gynecological examinations. Theo, skeptical of their goals and motives, says he wants to witness a Quietus for himself before deciding whether to speak to Xan on their behalf.

Several days later, Theo watches a Quietus and is disturbed to see that the old women participating appear drugged. One woman, whom Theo recognizes as the wife of his friend, attempts to escape the Quietus and is brutally killed, indicating that the Quietus is not as voluntary as the government has led the public to believe. Motivated by what he has seen, Theo agrees to go to Xan. When he finally arrives for their meeting, Theo finds that he is confronting Xan’s five-member Council as well as Xan. As Theo predicted, Xan and the Council are not receptive to the group’s ideas. Theo tries to point out the injustices perpetrated by the regime, but his objections are smoothly rationalized and shut down by Xan and the Council. Afterward, Xan tells Theo that he knows he must have come on behalf of someone else. Though Theo denies it, they both know he is lying and Xan warns him that he will do whatever is necessary to stay in power.

When Theo relates Xan’s refusal to the group, they decide to take action. They secretly distribute leaflets with their demands and blow up wharves that are intended to be used in Quietus ceremonies. Theo is visited by the State Security Police and though they do not arrest him, he realizes that his involvement with the group has been discovered. Confused by his feelings for Julian and reluctant to become further involved in what he believes to be a pointless cause, Theo decides to take a vacation and travel throughout Europe for several months.

Book Two: Alpha

Months later, Theo returns to Oxford and hears that the group (now calling themselves the “Five Fishes”) has continued to cause trouble. One day, Miriam contacts him and tells him Julian needs him. Unable to resist, Theo follows Miriam to the group’s hideout, where it is revealed that Julian is pregnant. The group tells Theo that Gascoigne has been captured by the police, and though he does not know about Julian’s pregnancy, the police will soon be able to find them. Theo tries to persuade Julian to go to Xan, assuring her that all their actions will be forgiven in light of her miraculous pregnancy. However, Julian believes that Xan is evil and refuses to have him involved in the birth of her child. To Theo’s dismay, the group decides they must go on the run before Julian’s pregnancy can be discovered, intending to have her give birth in secret. Theo agrees to help in order to protect Julian and the baby, offering his car as transport.

The group sets out and Theo and Rolf immediately begin to butt heads over Rolf’s leadership ability. They take a car from Theo’s old mentor’s house and attempt to drive to Wales, where support for the Warden is less strong. They drive for many hours before stopping for a break. While the rest of the group stretches their legs, Rolf admits to Theo that he plans to use his position as the father of Julian’s baby to overthrow the Warden and seize power. When Theo asks whether Rolf, as the new Warden, will implement the social reforms that the rest of the group is calling for, Rolf replies that he will not, confirming Theo’s initial perception that Rolf only cares about power. Along the way, the car breaks down, forcing the group to halt its frantic journey for a day. This day of rest allows Theo to bond with the members of the group, even Rolf. By the end of the day, Theo realizes that he feels closer to Julian, Miriam, Luke, and Rolf than he has ever felt to anyone.

After the group sets out at nightfall, their car is ambushed by a savage group of Omegas who live in the forest. Luke sacrifices himself to allow the others to escape and is then brutally beaten to death by the Omegas. Seeing Julian’s reaction to Luke’s death, Rolf questions who the father of her child really is. Julian admits that Luke is the real father, and Rolf, his dreams of power dashed, is devastated. To Theo’s surprise, Julian explains that she never really loved Rolf or Luke. Despite this jarring revelation, Theo’s feelings for her continue to grow. Soon after, Rolf abandons the group, clearly intending to betray Julian’s pregnancy to the Warden.

Theo, reasoning that Rolf will want to deliver the news in person, estimates that they have only several hours to form a new plan and change direction. He walks to a nearby town with the intention of stealing a car. Theo breaks into the home of an elderly couple and restrains them before stealing provisions from their home and taking their car. He picks up Miriam and Julian, who has now begun to go into labor. They head back toward Oxford, hoping that the Warden won’t expect them to hide so close.

The next day, Theo is wracked with guilt when he hears on the radio that the old woman he robbed died. They decide that Julian should give birth in a small woodshed in Wychwood forest. Hearing helicopters overhead, they know that the Warden is closing in. With Miriam’s help, Julian gives birth to a baby boy. Miriam steps outside to fetch more water, allowing Theo and Julian to have some private time together. When she does not return, Theo goes out in search of her and finds her garroted body nearby. Knowing that Xan has found them, Theo rushes back and finds Xan is standing alone near the woodshed.

Xan tries to persuade Theo to go get Julian, promising them both safety. Theo, knowing how much Julian fears Xan, refuses. They each draw a gun and shoot at each other, but Xan, startled by the wail of the newborn baby, misses. Theo’s shot hits Xan in the heart, killing him. The Council and several soldiers begin to emerge from the woods, prompting Theo to put on Xan’s ring as a symbolic gesture of authority. He shows the baby to the Council, who seem to have accepted his abrupt seizure of power. When Julian questions his choice to wear the ring, Theo is irritated, which suggests that he will be reluctant to part with his newfound power. Julian asks him to christen the baby and Theo does so, using Julian’s blood and his own tears to make a cross on the baby’s head.

See eNotes Ad-Free

Start your 48-hour free trial to get access to more than 30,000 additional guides and more than 350,000 Homework Help questions answered by our experts.

Get 48 Hours Free Access
Next

Chapter Summaries