Book 1, Chapter 9

Summary:

Several days later, Theo sets out to Southwold to watch a female Quietus. He recalls the last time he visited Southwold with his wife and daughter, thinking back with guilt about the selfish way he treated them. He finds the seaside town fairly empty, and an employee at a hotel tells him that most people have moved away because the Warden will soon stop supplying power to the town. A special jetty has been erected for the Quietus, and two decorated barges are waiting in the water. A band arrives and the old women are sent to change into white robes. The band plays cheerful songs while the women slowly climb aboard the barges, to which they are then shackled. Once the barge is out at sea, the soldiers on board will open the plugs and ride back to shore on a motorboat. Theo speculates that some of the women might be drugged. Suddenly, a woman jumps off one of the boats and runs toward the beach. Theo recognizes her as Jasper’s wife, Hilda, and runs out to help her back to shore. Soldiers intervene, however, and kill her with a blow to the head. They strike Theo as well and leave him half conscious on the beach. When he wakes, it is nighttime and he walks to a nearby bed-and-breakfast. When Theo asks the owner of the bed-and-breakfast whether she attended the Quietus earlier, she replies that there has not been one in Southwold.

Analysis:

On the way to the Quietus, we see another side of Theo. He remembers driving the same route with his wife and daughter several years ago and guiltily recalls how he refused to stop at a pub to allow Helena to feed their daughter. His genuine regret over his treatment of them shows that though Theo is unloving, he is not totally without feeling. Theo recognizes that his inability to love has hurt people, and it is clear that he feels tremendous guilt as a result. Indeed, he longs for a single happy memory of his daughter that has not been tainted by guilt or regret.

At the Quietus, Theo is stunned by the brutal murder of Jasper’s wife. His observation that the elderly participants appear drugged and Hilda’s quickly suppressed resistance make it obvious that the Quietus is not as voluntary as the government has pretended. Theo’s attempt to save Hilda is remarkable as it is the first time we see Theo challenge the status quo of his own volition. Though he is unable to prevent Hilda’s death, Theo’s experience at the Quietus opens his eyes and proves that the group’s concerns are indeed legitimate. As he spends a great deal of the chapter regretting that he did not do more for his wife and daughter, it seems likely that Theo might decide to agree to speak with the Warden on the group’s behalf.