(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.)