The Children of Men Summary

P. D. James

The Children of Men

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The Children of Men Summary

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The Children of Men is a riveting novel set in a rather bleak future. It is a dystopian novel, meaning that the world is in some form of chaos. In the case of James’ narrative, the world suffers from mass infertility. The narrative tells the story of Dr. Theodore (Theo) Faron, who is a historian focused on the Victorian age at Oxford University. Though Theo leads a quiet life, things soon change when he becomes involved in a plot to stand up to his cousin, the Warden of England, in an attempt to change the lives of everyone for the better.

The narrative takes place in 2021, though its origins began back in 1995. The reader learns early on that the human race is dying out due to the fact that men are infertile. Because of this, the world population has become sullen with its plight, and is easily manipulated by those in power. In Britain, the population is controlled by Xan Lyppiatt, the Warden of England and Theo’s cousin. Though civilization is seemingly doomed, the Warden attempts to run society as a functional environment, though not without its own bleak realities.

One day Theo is approached by a group of dissidents who are unhappy with Xan and his tactics. They actually consider Xan a dictator, and want Theo to talk to his cousin and the Council about changing the way things are run. They want to attempt a talk before they resort to all-out revolution. Theo finds himself attracted to one of the dissidents, a woman named Julian, and so agrees to speak with his cousin. The group’s demands are very clear: they want the penal colony where convicted criminals are sent to be shut down; they want the organized suicides of the elderly and dependent to stop; and they want an election to be held.

Theo talks to his cousin, but Xan refuses to meet any of the demands. Theo knew his cousin would say no, but wanted to try anyway. He then tells this news to the dissidents, who are known as the Five Fishes, and the group plans to go forward with its revolution. The Five Fishes begin by distributing leaflets and destroying the wharves where the organized suicides are held. With the start of the revolution, Theo begins to question his allegiances. He is enamored with Julian, but worries about his safety, especially when he is visited by the State Security Police. Due to this, Theo travels around Europe for a few months, and is surprised to see that the revolution has continued when he finally returns to England.

A few weeks after his return, one of the Five Fishes, a woman named Miriam, comes to Theo for help after one of their group has been arrested. He agrees, though he does it more for his interest in Julian. Theo eventually finds out that Julian is pregnant, and that she, along with her husband, Rolf, Miriam, and a priest named Luke, are all running from the SSP. Theo still agrees to help them, though he strongly dislikes Julian’s husband, Rolf. To Theo, Rolf is consumed with power. As it turns out, Rolf dislikes Theo as well, and shows his true colors when he betrays the group to the Warden after Luke is murdered by a band of wild Omegas, who are younger, spoiled people, when protecting Julian. Rolf had found out that the child is not his, but Luke’s, and so left in anger.

Theo must then find shelter for Miriam, Julian and himself. He takes the group to the woods near Oxford, where they find shelter in a woodshed. Miriam is able to deliver Julian’s baby, but when she goes to get water, is captured. Xan and Theo then face off in a final scene of strength and character. They shoot at each other, though Xan misses. Theo manages to hit Xan in the heart, and as his cousin dies, takes the Coronation Ring from his finger and places it on his own. He then addresses the Council, showing them the child.

The Children of Men is a powerful tale of love and survival. It is all the more powerful in that is takes place in a dying civilization. When everything in life seems to point to nothing, mankind still finds a way to hope and grow as a community. Moreover, though the world is plagued with infertility, the thrust of the novel is protecting a woman who is pregnant, thus symbolizing the need to protect the future, to foster growth and change despite the consequences. Theo starts off as a solitary man with his own quiet life. By the end of the novel, he has stood up constantly for those in need, and now finds himself not only the guardian of new life, but the protector of countless lives as the Warden. His journey highlights how important change is to not only one’s own life, but to the lives one touches on a daily basis.