Book 1, Chapter 8
Theo sets out in the morning to meet Julian’s secret group at a church in Binsey, a small hamlet that has been left deserted by the widespread move to urban areas. As he approaches the church, the parish priest warns him that he must be out by eleven o'clock to make way for a christening party. Inside the church, he is greeted by Julian and four others who only tell him their first names. Julian’s husband, Rolf, is the young, standoffish leader of the group. Miriam is a middle-aged black woman who was a midwife before the Omega. Gascoigne is a young, innocent-looking man of about thirty whose face appears childish. Luke is slightly older—Theo guesses somewhere in his forties—and a former priest. He appears frail to Theo, especially when contrasted with Rolf’s intimidating masculinity.
Theo asks if their group is religiously affiliated, given that they meet in a church. Rolf vehemently denies that their group is religious and explains that they pretend to be a group studying the Old Book of Common Prayer, though Theo quickly exposes the inadequacy of their cover. The group tells Theo that they have contacted him in the hope that he can reason with the Warden, rendering it unnecessary for them to take action. Rolf quickly interjects that he did not want to consult with Theo and does not trust him. The group then outlines the concerns that they want him to bring to the Warden. First, they take issue with the fact that the Warden has not called for an election since he was first elected to power. They also want him to end the humiliating compulsory semen-testing and gynecological examinations, given that no one really believes that there is a chance for fertility anymore. The group believes that the Local and Regional Councils should be made more democratic and that the Quietus should be abolished. Finally, they object to the government’s use of Sojourners—Omegas imported from poor countries who take care of the elderly until they are forcibly repatriated at the age of sixty. The group calls this system exploitative and believes it is akin to legalized slavery.
Theo argues that there is neither the energy nor the will for reformation; people have lost hope and only want to live out their lives in the comfort that the Warden can provide. Privately, he thinks that their group is disjointed and lacks common aims or motives. In an effort to persuade Theo otherwise, Miriam tells him about her brother, who was sent to the penal colony on the Isle of Man—an unsupervised island to which violent criminals are sent for life—for the theft of a handbag. Her brother escaped the island and returned to Miriam before being recaptured and killed by the State Security Police. He revealed that the island is a lawless place, ruled by a gang of ruthless convicts and plagued by violence and starvation. Theo remains fairly unconvinced, arguing that social ills are inevitable and that such unfortunate realities may be the cost of sound government. Ultimately, Theo decides that he wants to witness a Quietus before making a decision about whether to speak with the Warden. After leaving the group, Theo regrets that he came at all and hopes that the Quietus will not change his mind. As he walks away from the church, he passes a christening party carrying two kittens dressed in bonnets and christening robes.
We see in this chapter that Rolf and Theo dislike each other from the moment they meet. Rolf is threatened by Theo, while Theo believes Rolf to be obsessed with power. This first meeting sets up the conflicts that will continue to define their relationship throughout the novel. Though Theo has proved to be a very judgmental person, Rolf’s aggressive approach and tendency to speak over others during the meeting seems to confirm Theo’s characterization of Rolf as selfish and power-hungry.
Though the group’s demands sound reasonable, Theo appears unmoved by their concerns. Rather than acknowledging their complaints, Theo chooses to treat the group with condescension, criticizing both their lack of cohesion and general ineptitude as potential rebels. This reaction highlights Theo’s obvious arrogance but also speaks to his deeper lack of hope. Theo clearly believes that there is little point in trying to improve society in the face of imminent extinction. That he wants to wait to make a decision until he can personally witness a Quietus further emphasizes his lack of faith in the group. The christening of the kittens as Theo leaves the church serves as a jarring reminder that, despite Theo’s protestations in the church, their society is highly dysfunctional.
(The entire section is 789 words.)