Summary

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.

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...

(The entire section is 1644 words.)

The Children of Men Summary

(Masterpieces of World Literature, Critical Edition)

The phrase “children of God” suggests divine guidance, human potential, and the hope of redemption, while James’s title The Children of Men, a derogatory phrase reminiscent of Old Testament diction, suggests human frailty, a fall from grace, impermanence, and the dark side of the human spirit—cruelty, violence, and a lust for power. In an age in which no child has been born in twenty-six years, adults burdened by guilty pasts face the nightmarish end of the human species. Human achievements lose their grandeur and their potential to inspire as they meld into the landscape. It is a time for Ozymandian contemplation, carpe diem, and a human accounting before the world’s demise. Such are the thoughts of Oxford historian and erudite narrator Theodore Faron, who escapes responsibility for the present by taking a slow journey, revisiting European centers of art and architecture in the interim between the two sections of James’s novel. In this science-fiction vision of the very near future, James reverses their standard order to identify the first part, “Book One: Omega,” and the second part, “Book Two: Alpha.”

Thus, book 1 depicts a dystopian winding down, a retrenching of human civilizations, a movement from rural isolation to urban security, and an increasingly powerful and tyrannical government and military, as roving bands of bacchanalian thugs engage in sadistic sacrificial rites, and, in general, the threads of morality and...

(The entire section is 592 words.)