The Children of Men


P. D. James

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The Children of Men: Chapter 23 Summary & Analysis

Theo has to pull the car over several times so that Miriam can help Julian into the woods to relieve herself. On one of the stops, the group all gets out to stretch their legs. Rolf confronts Theo, and tells him that their “expedition” cannot have “two leaders.” Rolf insists that Theo was never part of the group. Theo counters that Julian has specially requested his presence, and that the two are “stuck” with one another. Rolf tells Theo that he wants to drive, and Theo points out how ridiculous it is that Rolf, soon to be “hailed as the father of [a] new race,” is concerned with not being behind the wheel.
The power struggle between Rolf and Theo is born of Rolf’s jealousy of Theo. The fact that his wife has developed an attachment to and a need for Theo riles Rolf, who takes out his hurt and anger in the form of a grab for power. Theo points out how banal and futile Rolf’s desire to wrest power by taking control of the car is, given the enormous importance of their mission and the precious burden they’re guarding.
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Rolf offers to let Theo serve as his personal adviser when Rolf, as the father of the first child born in over twenty years, inevitably takes the power to rule from Xan. Theo points out that Rolf will just be replacing one dictator with another one. Theo asks what Rolf plans to do with the power once he’s taken it from Xan. Rolf insists that the people will “give” him the power, and then reveals that he doesn’t actually care about any of the Fishes’ demands of the government and does not plan to enact any change once he is in charge.
Theo believes that Rolf has a foolish view of power—how it is attained, how it is maintained, and how it functions both as a tool and as a destructive force. The revelation that Rolf does not actually care about the ideals that his wife and the rest of the Fishes so desperately believe in paints him as a purely ambitious man—and thus a dangerous one.
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Theo restrains himself from lashing out and telling Rolf that once Xan sees Rolf as a threat, the government will extract his sperm to get what they “need” from him and then quickly dispose of him. Luke, Miriam, and Julian return to the car, and Theo allows Rolf to take the wheel.
Though Rolf claims he will soon have unimaginable power, it is actually Theo who holds the advantage—he knows how power really works, and is aware that Rolf will have a tenuous grasp of true power at best.
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