The Children of Men

by

P. D. James

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The Children of Men: Chapter 8 Summary & Analysis

Summary
Analysis
It is the Sunday of Theo’s meeting with Julian and her group, and he heads to the church where the encounter will take place. As he approaches the church, the parish preacher emerges, waving Theo away and loudly telling him that there is no service—instead there is a “christening” scheduled for eleven. Theo insists that he is “just visiting,” but the priest describes vagrants who break in and hold Black Masses in the empty church. He nevertheless allows Theo to enter, as long as he promises to be out by eleven.
Here Theo describes another subversion of a historic religious ritual—churches are now used for alternative, possibly even Satanist, religions, though “christenings” remain intact. People are desperate to find any kind of meaning or hope in this dark world, even turning to the occult for answers.
Themes
History, Mythology, and Memory Theme Icon
Julian meets Theo at the front of the church. He follows her inside, where the group is “separated, walking in different [areas] as if forced apart.” Theo can tell which man is Julian’s husband right away. The man comes toward Theo, and the two face each other “like adversaries.” This man, Rolf, is handsome, young enough to have missed being an Omega by just a few years. Rolf explains that the group uses first names only. He introduces himself, as well as Miriam, Luke, and Gascoigne. He explains that Miriam is an ex-midwife and Luke is a priest, but that Theo doesn’t “need to know” what any of their current occupations are.
The physically sprawled arrangement of the group the first time Theo sees them will come to symbolize the huge differences in their ambitions and ideals. The group’s secrecy in regards to their names and professions also betrays an unwillingness to trust any outsiders—and perhaps, by extension, one another as well.
Themes
Fatalism and Despair vs. Action and Hope Theme Icon
Globalism vs. Isolationism  Theme Icon
Power and Ambition Theme Icon
Miriam introduces herself to Theo and shakes his hand with a “half-humorous colluding glance, as if they were already conspirators.” She is black and, Theo guesses, the oldest of the group. Gascoigne introduces himself next—he is young and stout, with “a child’s face.” Luke smiles at Theo—he seems to be in his forties, has a “pale, sensitive face,” and his “frailty [is] in stark contrast to Rolf’s dark masculinity.”
Theo can sense the energies of each member of the group right off the bat. He will come to know them all quite well over the course of the novel, but for now it is the contrast between Luke and Rolf that particularly strikes him. The power dynamic between the two of them will affect Theo in ways he can’t yet perceive.
Themes
Fatalism and Despair vs. Action and Hope Theme Icon
Globalism vs. Isolationism  Theme Icon
Power and Ambition Theme Icon
Theo reiterates to the group that he has “no influence” where Xan is concerned—he tells them that that is part of the reason why he left the Council in the first place. Theo asks the group if they’re a religious one, which Rolf vehemently denies. Miriam explains that while Luke and Julian are Christians, their group only meets in churches because “no one asks any questions.”
The group has come to Theo because they believe he has a specific, valuable kind of power over Xan. Admitting that he never had that power even when he sat on Xan’s council is a blow to Theo’s ego, but it’s the truth.
Themes
History, Mythology, and Memory Theme Icon
Power and Ambition Theme Icon
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Theo asks Rolf why the group doesn’t try to go before the Warden and the Council themselves. Rolf replies that while the government wouldn’t listen to their group, Xan might listen to Theo. Theo asks what the group “would want [him] to say” if he did go before Xan. Rolf begins revealing their group’s list of demands, starting with the calling of a general election. He points out that Xan is a tyrant who has neglected to call an election for fifteen years, and Gascoigne, indignant, adds as further proof of Xan’s tyranny the fact that Xan has co-opted the Grenadiers—a senior guard regiment of the British army—as his private army. Rolf goes on, adding that the Warden should also end the semen-testing program. Luke expresses his desire for the end of “compulsory” gynecological examinations as well as the Quietus. Julian adds that something must be done to ensure rights for Sojourners.
The group reveals themselves to be completely dissatisfied with modern society, though, as Theo observes, they are each focused on a different goal or grievance. Together, their desires to see changes in their government reflect a kind of hope that has become rare in the modern life of the novel—the hope that positive change and renewal can redeem what is left of human life on earth. The group is ambitious, yet desirous not (seemingly) of power, but of real social good and true change for the better. At the same time, the group’s demands and goals seem so broad and they have so little power behind them that it seems highly unlikely Xan will be swayed.
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 tells the group that no one, not even the common people, “care[s]” enough about the issues the group wants to tackle. When Julian explains that part of the group’s goal is to help people to care, Theo retorts that anyone living on a “dying planet” only wants “security and comfort,” and the Warden provides those things. Luke thinks the government should, in addition, offer “compassion, justice, [and] love.” Theo begins to find the group ridiculous, noting their disorganization and lack of a common purpose—they are all indignant about different things and motivated by disparate wants.
The not-good-enough presence of security and comfort—the banal promises of the English government—mirror the ways in which Theo does not want to take responsibility for anyone’s well-being or happiness. When Luke suggests that compassion and love are possible, Theo balks at the idea of helping the group, as he is still deeply set in his apathetic, narcissistic ways, similar to Xan’s regime.
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
Julian implores Miriam to tell Theo about her brother. Miriam describes how her brother was sent to the Isle of Man Penal Colony for robbing an Omega woman and pushing her to the ground. Her brother escaped on a broken dinghy—conditions on the island were so bad that even drowning would have been better than staying. After her brother made it to Miriam’s house and spent the night, a group of Grenadiers and the State Security Police arrived to take him away again—a week later, they sent Miriam her brother’s ashes.
Miriam’s story reveals to Theo, and to the audience, the lengths to which the government will go to preserve its total control over its citizens and enforce the new, harmful rituals which have come to govern English society. Up against such cruelty, justice seems both impossible and more important to fight for than ever.
Themes
History, Mythology, and Memory Theme Icon
Fatalism and Despair vs. Action and Hope Theme Icon
Apocalypse: Revelation, Renewal, and Redemption Theme Icon
Power and Ambition Theme Icon
Theo tells the group that their demands are foolish, and will never be met. Julian then asks Theo how he would begin to resist and rebel, if it were him leading their group. Theo tells her that he wouldn’t even attempt to go against the government—history has told him very clearly “what happens to people who do.”
Theo’s view of history is a pessimistic one—as a history professor, he has learned from stories of failed revolt, repetitious cycles of evil and tyranny, and the perils of ambition both on the part of the oppressed and their oppressors.
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
Rolf accuses Theo of having come to meet with the group despite having no intention of helping. Theo tells all of them that he hasn’t yet said he won’t approach Xan, but before he makes a decision, he wants to see a Quietus—he wants to bring Xan more than just hearsay. Julian tells him there is one happening nearby in Southwold in three days. Theo tells her that he will decide whether or not he plans to see the Warden “immediately” after the Quietus is finished, and that he will leave a note for them bearing his decision in a nearby museum. Two weeks from Wednesday, he says, he will plan to meet Julian—alone—in that same museum to inform them of what the Warden has said, if he’s agreed to meet with him.
Theo considers taking action on behalf of the group, but wants to see for himself whether the injustices they describe are truly as bad as they say. The Quietus, which he has recently heard more about from Hilda, seems to him the proper test of what the government is really up to—the Quietus has been described as a benevolent and redemptive ritual, but this, Theo knows, could be just another government spin or cover-up. Further, the fact that Theo has to actively seek out the injustices the group describes shows how insidious they are in this society, and also his relatively privileged position.
Themes
Fatalism and Despair vs. Action and Hope Theme Icon
Apocalypse: Revelation, Renewal, and Redemption Theme Icon
Power and Ambition Theme Icon
Theo leaves the church, annoyed to have gotten himself involved but “more affected than he care[s] to admit.” Theo watches as a christening party makes its way toward the church—two kittens are about to be baptized.
Theo observes the christening party as they cling to ritual and the past, just as he has left a group which looks toward the future and to change.
Themes
History, Mythology, and Memory Theme Icon
Fatalism and Despair vs. Action and Hope Theme Icon
Apocalypse: Revelation, Renewal, and Redemption Theme Icon