The Children of Men

by

P. D. James

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The Children of Men: Chapter 33 Summary & Analysis

Summary
Analysis
The baby nurses, and Theo lies with Julian on the soiled birthing sheet. Despite the stench, Theo has “never known such peace.” After a while, Julian asks how long it has been since Miriam left. Theo checks his watch and realizes that it’s been more than an hour. Julian implores Theo to go out and find her—she promises Theo that she and her child will be all right, and the way she looks at her son nearly “unman[s]” Theo. He doesn’t want to leave Julian—he wants to be with her and the child when Xan inevitably arrives—but Julian insists.
Finally, Theo has found “peace” in being a custodian of the happiness and well-being of another person. This symbolizes a redemptive moment of renewal for Theo, as well as a turn toward real hope for both him and Julian, not to mention the human race. At the same time, Theo realizes that Julian’s love for her child dwarfs her love for him—he is “unman[ned]” by the child’s power over Julian. 
Themes
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Theo runs through the woods, knowing that if Miriam has been captured by the SSP there is nothing he can do to help her. When Theo reaches the nearby house where Miriam went to find supplies, he finds her inside—“[strangled] and dumped into a large wicker chair.” Horrified, Theo plans to leave right away with the “meager gleanings” Miriam gathered before she was murdered, but knows that he cannot leave her in such a state. Theo loosens the cord from Miriam’s neck, lifts her body, and brings her outside, where he rests her beneath a tree. He takes the supplies and runs back to the woods.
Theo, on some level, knows what has happened to Miriam before he even discovers her body—the totality of Xan’s power is so vast that Miriam could not even make a short journey without falling victim to his regime’s clutches. Theo’s decision to dignify Miriam’s death, as the rest of the Fishes did for Luke, represents a moment of growth away from and out of isolation, solitude, and lack of responsibility for others.
Themes
Fatalism and Despair vs. Action and Hope Theme Icon
Apocalypse: Revelation, Renewal, and Redemption Theme Icon
Globalism vs. Isolationism  Theme Icon
Power and Ambition Theme Icon
Theo knows that Xan and the police are nearby, and that more than likely they are watching him. He knows too, though, that Xan is not expecting Julian to have given birth yet. He wonders if Xan had Miriam killed in a show of strength, as a way to bully Theo and Julian into silence about the child’s true parentage. He thinks that Xan may kill both Julian and Theo and claim the child as his own.
Theo, for the moment, has a little bit of power over Xan with the knowledge that Julian’s child has been born. However, once Xan arrives and discovers the child, he will have the authority and ability to consolidate even more power than ever before.
Themes
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Theo returns to the shed and finds Julian and the child resting peacefully. Julian understands that Miriam must be dead, and begins to weep. Theo urges Julian to “remember the baby,” and gives her food and water. Julian worries that the authorities will try to separate her from Theo. Theo assures her that “nothing and no one” will ever separate them. He strokes her bad hand and the two sit in silence until Julian says she’s heard something. She thinks that Xan has arrived.
The loss of Miriam and the despair it brings binds Theo and Julian even closer together, but the threat of the outside world’s intrusion looms closer than ever. Julian and Theo must confront the power and quasi-mythological status that Julian’s child has given them before they are able to share in its joy alone for any length of time.
Themes
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Fatalism and Despair vs. Action and Hope Theme Icon
Apocalypse: Revelation, Renewal, and Redemption Theme Icon
Globalism vs. Isolationism  Theme Icon
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Theo places Jasper’s last remaining bullet into the revolver and exits the shed. Xan is standing outside, alone. Theo can see that he is wearing a holster beneath his sweater. The Coronation Ring “glitter[s]” on Xan’s left hand. Xan asks Theo if the rumors are true, and Theo confirms them. Xan lets out a “gasp of relief,” then tells Theo that though he does not want to frighten Julian, he has brought “everything she needs” to have the child in “comfort and safety.” It’s clear that he does not know the child has been born yet.
Xan and Theo’s confrontation is marked by a mutual display of power and ambition. Both men want to possess Julian, but for very different reasons. Theo loves her deeply and truly, and she represents to him hope and redemption. Xan sees Julian as a vessel for even greater power, and desires her comfort and safety not out of compassion but utility.
Themes
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Theo accuses Xan of murdering every member of The Five Fishes, and Xan admits to it. He tells Theo that he does not want to or plan to kill him—in fact, he says that he needs Theo. Theo asks Xan to tell him what he plans to do once he gets a hold of the baby. Xan replies that the child, if born a boy, will be “the father of a new race,” and may even be able to “breed again [with Julian] herself.” He tells Theo that he will most likely marry Julian, and ensure she is looked after and cared for. He tells Theo that Theo will have “anything [he] want[s],” and can even rejoin the Council. Theo refuses.
Theo spurns Xan’s offer of more power and authority, revealing his true devotion to Julian and the dissipation of the “self-obsessi[ve]” tendencies that have adversely affected every relationship he’s ever known. Xan’s view of Julian as an object for “breeding” and a symbol of renewal rather than as a whole person with wants and needs reveals his inhumanity and inability to reject or overcome his self-obsession.
Themes
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Fatalism and Despair vs. Action and Hope Theme Icon
Apocalypse: Revelation, Renewal, and Redemption Theme Icon
Globalism vs. Isolationism  Theme Icon
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Xan implores Theo to remember their happy times at Woolcombe, and tells Theo that he has no desire to kill him. Theo tells Xan he will “have to” if he wants to get to the child, and reaches for his gun. Xan attempts to call Theo out as bluffing, and warns him not to “romanticize” Julian—she is a “whore,” Xan says.
Even as he attempts to win Theo over by appealing to his soft spot for shared history and personal memory, Xan is unable to hide his disdain for and cruelty toward Julian—this, Theo cannot abide.
Themes
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Xan reaches for his gun and fires at Theo, but misses. Theo fires and shoots Xan right through the heart. Theo walks over to Xan’s dead body, and reaches down and takes the Coronation Ring off of Xan’s finger. The Council members emerge from the woods, along with six Grenadiers. Theo holds up the ring and “deliberately” places it on his finger, announcing his power to the Council. He informs them that the child has been born, and they ask to see him. Theo tells them he must secure Julian’s consent first, and goes back into the shed.
Theo has just murdered the most powerful man in England, and no doubt one of the most powerful people on the planet. Theo retrieves Xan’s ring and dons it as a symbol of his triumph over Xan, and the unassailable truth of his new power. Theo now wields the power of the ring, the power of his victory over Xan, and, in many ways, the power of Julian’s child. This is a triumphant moment, but also an ominous one—will Theo just become another Xan, absolutely corrupted by absolute power?
Themes
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Julian is grateful to see Theo alive. The two embrace, and Theo tells her that Xan is dead and the Council has arrived. He asks if she will show the child to them. She agrees, but asks Theo what will happen next. Theo realizes that she is terrified. He promises to never leave her.
Theo’s faith in the future is renewed, and he is redeemed by his promise to Julian—to stay by her side, and to claim responsibility for her and her happiness.
Themes
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Theo invites the Council members in and orders the Grenadiers to take Xan’s body away. Once inside, Harriet and Felicia approach Julian and the child. Harriet reaches out a finger, and the baby grasps it. Carl, moved, proclaims: “So it begins again.”
The Council’s ecstatic meeting with Julian and her child reveals their collectively restored hope—a deep human hope that extends even beyond the limits of politics and power. Carl’s proclamation that humanity has “begun again” carries both hope and caution.
Themes
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“It begins again,” Theo thinks, “with jealousy, with treachery, with violence, with this ring on my finger.” He considers the Coronation Ring, and how he donned it as “a gesture to assert authority and ensure protection.” He wonders if he needs to wear the ring. He realizes that all of Xan’s “power [is] within his grasp” with or without it. He believes that he must take Xan’s place “for a time” in order to remedy the ills of society. He wonders if the intoxication he feels is the same intoxication Xan felt, and perhaps is the reason Xan was unwilling to relinquish his power.
Despite the joyful moment, Theo is both fearful and irritated by the way in which humanity has “begun again.” His fascination with the ring—and with the promise of limitless power and enormous responsibility it carries—betrays the ambition he has perhaps felt all along, but has been unable to confront or accept.
Themes
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Fatalism and Despair vs. Action and Hope Theme Icon
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Globalism vs. Isolationism  Theme Icon
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Theo asks the Council to leave him and Julian alone. After the Council members leave the shed, Julian notices Theo wearing the ring, and tells him it “wasn’t made for [his] finger.” Theo feels a twinge of “irritation,” and tells Julian that the ring is “useful” for the moment. Seemingly content with Theo’s answer, Julian asks him to christen the baby. Theo places a fresh towel beneath Julian’s legs, and makes the sign of the cross on the baby’s forehead “with a thumb wet with his own tears and [Julian’s] blood.”
The book ends on a note of both hope and fatalism. Theo has conquered the evil that he and the Fishes wanted to eradicate, at least as represented in one tyrannical man, and Julian’s child has been safely born. Now that Theo has such a great deal of power, though, it remains to be seen whether he will use that opportunity for good, or fall into the repetitious pattern of self-obsession and disregard for others that plagued Xan’s rule. The novel then ends with another image of Christian symbolism (the sign of the cross) reimagined for a dark modern world.
Themes
History, Mythology, and Memory Theme Icon
Fatalism and Despair vs. Action and Hope Theme Icon
Apocalypse: Revelation, Renewal, and Redemption Theme Icon
Globalism vs. Isolationism  Theme Icon
Power and Ambition Theme Icon
Related Quotes