The Children of Men


P. D. James

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The Children of Men Study Guide

Welcome to the LitCharts study guide on P. D. James's The Children of Men. Created by the original team behind SparkNotes, LitCharts are the world's best literature guides.

Brief Biography of P. D. James

Born in 1920 in Oxford to parents who didn’t value women’s education, Phyllis Dorothy James left high school at sixteen with dreams of becoming a writer. Marriage, family, and the carnage and disruption of World War 2 derailed James’s dreams for a time—she worked as a Red Cross nurse throughout the war and, after its end, was forced to support her family following her husband’s debilitating and dangerous struggle with PTSD. After securing a job in hospital administration, James spent her mornings writing before heading to work, and set many of her early novels in hospitals. She began writing detective stories, her devotion to the form and love of the challenge of using the form to “say something true about men and women and their relationships and the society in which they live” spurring her on. She “exorcise[d her] fear” of violence through her chilling mysteries, and her books—the most famous of which include Innocent Blood, The Children of Men, and Death Comes to Pemberley—have sold over ten million copies in the United States alone. In late 2014, she died at 94 years old at her home in Oxford, revered by fans the world over as the “Queen of Crime.” Her work continues to be published posthumously
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Historical Context of The Children of Men

The early 1990s, the time when P.D. James was writing The Children of Men, was a time of great global change. The geography of Europe was shifting quickly with the reunification of Germany and the dissolution of the USSR into fifteen individual sovereign republics. In the United Kingdom, Margaret Thatcher’s controversial politics—a legacy of British nationalism, including her reluctance to integrate economically with Europe—led to calls for her resignation as Prime Minister, which she eventually conceded to in late 1990, while a recession left two million unemployed by the end of the first month of 1991. James wrote The Children of Men amidst an environment of tremendous social, political, and economic upheaval. Themes of globalism versus isolationism thus reign over much of the narrative, as do resulting questions of the impact and purpose of history, repetition, societal renewal, and collective action.

Other Books Related to The Children of Men

A dystopian, apocalyptic narrative which falls under the larger umbrella of speculative fiction, The Children of Men takes cues from novels such as Aldous Huxley’s Brave New World and Margaret Atwood’s The Handmaid’s Tale—novels which imagine a highly undesirable future and which focus largely on issues surrounding the failures of human fertility and procreation. In The Children of Men, human fertility is impossible, and no alternative method of creating life has been discovered. Out of deep emotional need, inanimate objects such as dolls and baby animals are ascribed human status and doted upon. In The Handmaid’s Tale, the majority of the female population is unable to bear children, resulting in the creation of coteries of Handmaids—women sold into slavery to rich men who impregnate them and force them to bear children to then be raised by the men and their barren wives. In Brave New World, humans are born through artificial wombs and are sorted into highly segregated castes, or classes. The fear of the end of humanity coming about through our own failures, rather than a cataclysmic natural or chemical event or an act of war, imbues these novels with a tinge of humiliation and despair—when our strongest biological imperative is removed from the equation of our lives on Earth, what cultural, social, or scientific systems take over? The Children of Men is part of a rich tradition of speculative literature which explores the extremes of this possibility.
Key Facts about The Children of Men
  • Full Title: The Children of Men
  • When Written: Early 1990s
  • Where Written: England
  • When Published: 1992
  • Literary Period: Contemporary
  • Genre: Dystopian thriller, speculative fiction
  • Setting: England in the year 2021
  • Climax: Theo Faron, an Oxford historian struggling to cope with the impending end of civilization due to mass infertility as well as his cousin’s swift and insidious rise to power in the new British government, is called upon to assist an anarchist group called The Five Fishes whose leader’s wife, Julian, is the first pregnant woman on Earth in over twenty years.
  • Antagonist: Xan Lyppiatt
  • Point of View: Alternating first-person and third-person, switching between Theo’s diary entries and a close-third narrator.

Extra Credit for The Children of Men

Page to Screen. The Children of Men was adapted into a 2006 film called Children of Men, starring Clive Owen and Julianne Moore. Directed by the visionary Alfonso Cuarón (Y Tu Mama Tambien, Harry Potter and the Prisoner of Azkaban) the film rewrote and reinterpreted much of James’s novel. Cuarón’s fascination with shooting long, unbroken takes and his experimental use of documentary-style camerawork contribute to the film’s innovative feel. It was nominated for three Academy Awards: Best Adapted Screenplay, Best Cinematography, and Best Film Editing.