The Children of Men

by

P. D. James

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The Children of Men: Chapter 2 Summary & Analysis

Summary
Analysis
A few days later, Theo returns to his diary to reflect upon his past. He describes the years during which he served as an adviser to his dictatorial cousin Xan, and sat on the Council of England. Journalists at that time described the relationship between the two as one that was “close as brothers,” but Theo insists that this is not true, though the error is unsurprising, as the two did spend every single summer together at Xan’s family’s massive estate, Woolcombe.
Theo and Xan are two sides of a coin. Theo is wrapped up in the history of humanity as a whole, while Xan is preoccupied with a very narrow sliver of the future—his own. Their ideals are at odds, but in close proximity to one another, just as Theo and Xan have been since childhood.
Themes
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To this day, Theo says, he is unable to “understand what [he] felt for Xan then.” Each summer Xan welcomed Theo to his home “as if he were receiving back his twin,” though the two were never particularly warm toward one another.
Theo’s recollection of Xan’s perception of him as his twin continues to highlight the ways in which the two very different men, bound by blood, have always complemented one another.
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Woolcombe is now a nursing home for former nominees and members of the Council that governs England, as well as those individuals’ family members. Both Theo’s mother and Xan’s mother, who had been sisters, died there themselves. While Theo’s aunt married well, his mother married a “middle-grade civil servant,” and so Xan and Theo’s lives were enormously different.
The competition between Theo and Xan existed before either was even born—their mothers’ differences became theirs to bear, and it was up to Theo and Xan to unite in the face of a resentment which sprang from their mothers’ different ideals and ambitions.
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Xan, Theo observes, never had any friends come to Woolcombe over the summer, and anytime Theo asked Xan about school he deflected, other than admitting that he was a troublesome student who enjoyed “confus[ing]” his teachers. Theo thinks that the reason Xan enjoyed having him visit was that, when Theo was around, Xan never had to face down the question of why he had no other friends. Theo’s being around “lifted the burden of parental concern” off of Xan—having Theo around meant Xan’s parents stopped worrying about him and his lack of “real” friends. Theo describes the “obsessive self-sufficiency” he and Xan shared, and muses that this is the reason for Theo’s failed marriage and for Xan’s lack of any intimate relationship. 
Xan’s self-absorption, a lifelong trait, prevented him from making any real connections as a child and led to his using Theo as a scapegoat in the face of his failed social life. This self-absorption, though, is something Theo himself has struggled with as well. Theo and Xan’s self-obsession both foreshadows and symbolizes the “obsessive self-sufficiency” and lack of empathy or collaboration that has come to categorize the world as a whole.
Themes
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Theo’s days at Woolcombe were marked by sleeping late, breakfasting late, and playing or shooting pistols with blanks. As the boys got older, they drove around picking up girls, which “terrified” Theo. In all their summers together Xan never treated Theo as if he were poor, and allowed him to be alone and read history books if he wanted to. One evening while reading, Theo discovered that a battle had taken place on Woolcombe’s grounds. The two celebrated the soldiers who’d died there on the anniversary of the skirmish by drinking a bottle of stolen claret and firing pistols into the sky. This, Theo says, is one of his happiest memories.
Theo’s fond—or at least mostly fond—memories of his childhood summers spent with Xan speak to the historical moment in which the boys were not so different. Though Xan has become the dictator of England and Theo has fallen into a pattern of languishing in the past, the two once shared the same ideals, the same family history, and formed together memories, mythologies, and hopes that unfortunately would fall away in the wake of Omega.
Themes
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Power and Ambition Theme Icon