Themes

Pursuit of Power

The pursuit of power is a major theme in The Children of Men. Many of the characters, whether they admit it or not, are in search of power. Rolf, the leader of the Five Fishes, is the most obvious and the least successful in his quest for power. He openly admits to Theo that, unlike the rest of the group, he only wants to rebel in order to secure personal power. Planning to use his miraculous fertility as leverage, Rolf wants to become the new ruler of England—though he admits that he would not actually enact the social changes that the rest of the group supports. When Rolf realizes that he is not the father of Julian’s baby, he immediately betrays the group to the Warden, demonstrating the extent to which some will go to achieve power. Power is also explored through Xan, who, as the despotic Warden of England, exercises complete control over the country. Xan proves ruthless in his quest to retain power, though he admits to Theo that he no longer truly enjoys being in charge. When Theo presses him, Xan memorably asks him, “Have you ever known anyone to give up power, real power?” In contrast, Theo does not initially appear to be interested in power, choosing to devote his considerable intelligence to academia rather than politics. He even gives up an influential position as Xan’s advisor, though he later admits that his decision was motivated by the humiliation of feeling excluded from the true power of the Council. While Theo often acts disinterested, he readily challenges overt displays of power, such as when he mocks Xan’s decision to wear the ostentatious coronation ring of England (itself a symbol of power). As the novel progresses, Theo’s growing desire for power becomes more and more conspicuous. From the beginning, he clashes with Rolf over the leadership of the Five Fishes, and he later refuses to relinquish the gun he stole from Jasper. Theo even admits that he enjoyed the thrill of power he felt when he robbed the elderly couple. All of these events foreshadow Theo’s eventual decision to kill Xan and—by putting on the very ring he once mocked Xan for wearing—take over as the ruler of England. Though Theo has learned to love (a quality that Xan never possessed), his reluctance to remove the ring suggests that history will repeat and that Theo, like Xan, will become intoxicated with power. As Carl Inglebach observes upon seeing Julian’s baby, the cycle “begins again,” and as humanity is revived, so too are the darker aspects of human nature.

Death and Birth

Mankind has always been maintained through a constant cycle of death and birth. The Children of Men examines what it means for the circle to be interrupted: there is an end but no beginning. The planet has been ravaged by mass infertility, leaving the remaining generations to witness the slow extinction of humanity. The separation of the book into two...

(The entire section is 1200 words.)