The Children of Men

by

P. D. James

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The Children of Men: Chapter 4 Summary & Analysis

Summary
Analysis
It is now nearly the end of January. In a new diary entry, Theo reflects upon his childhood with his parents. His mother, he says, had “artistic pretensions,” and was a fairly skilled painter. She would recreate vintage prints, frame them, and sell them. Theo helped his mother by frequenting junk shops to buy—or to steal—extra prints.
Theo’s preoccupation with his past deepens as he reflects upon his own home life. Theo’s mother, too, had a love of the past and old things, and Theo was drawn into her pursuit of renewing and remaking the past. 
Themes
History, Mythology, and Memory Theme Icon
Apocalypse: Revelation, Renewal, and Redemption Theme Icon
Theo traces the roots of his “terror of taking responsibility for other people’s happiness” to the death of his father in 1983 after a long battle with stomach cancer. While Theo’s father was ill, both of his parents attempted to shield him from the truth, only telling Theo that his father was sick and would  be going in and out of the hospital. Though Theo’s memories of the day his father died are shadowy, he can “recall every hour” the day his father was cremated. Theo’s relatives told him that he was “the man of the family now,” and even then Theo did not want anyone to “look to him for protection, happiness, [or] love.”
Theo’s “obsessive self-sufficiency” is revealed to be rooted in a terrible loss. The responsibility of attempting to renew his mother’s happiness and to provide their devastated family with hope in the face of despair proved too much for Theo, and even as an adult he has never been able to move past that isolation—an isolation which has now become the centerpiece of his own personal mythology.
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
Theo wishes he has happier memories of his father—his strongest one is “one of horror.” Theo’s father, toward the end of his life, cut his finger and the wound became infected, bloody, and full of oozing pus. Theo had nightmares for many months after his father’s death, in which his father stood at the foot of Theo’s own bed, pointing his bloody stump at Theo. The dream soon stopped coming, but began recurring when Theo “killed Natalie.” Now, Theo says, his father “never comes” to him anymore.
Theo’s horror of mortality is symbolized in his childhood nightmares of his father. The dreams, which began recurring after the death of Theo’s daughter Natalie, perhaps symbolize Theo’s “self-obsession” and lack of desire to become accountable for anyone else’s happiness or well-being.
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