The Children of Men

by

P. D. James

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The Children of Men: Chapter 9 Summary & Analysis

Summary
Analysis
On the morning of the Quietus, Theo drives to Southwold. He has not been to the town in twenty-seven years, since he went with Helena and Natalie when she was under a year old, and he finds it much emptier than it was long ago. He lunches at a pub, observes a group of Sojourners doing roadwork, and decides to have coffee at a nearby inn—when he approaches it, though, he sees that it is closed. The proprietor tells him it is shut for the day out of “respect [for] the Quietus.” Theo parks his car and heads for the pier, where the ritual is to take place.
Southwold, a town which Theo last observed in the “normal” world before Year Omega, is now being shown to the audience through Theo’s disoriented eyes. Everything is different here, from the presence of the Sojourners and the Quietus ritual to the sheer lack of people remaining there.
Themes
History, Mythology, and Memory Theme Icon
The elderly women who are the participants in the Quietus begin to arrive in coach buses, and make their way down to the beach to change into long white robes. A decorated band congregates, to play the women off to their deaths. The old women are arranged in a line, and each is given a small bunch of flowers—Theo thinks the women look like “a bevy of disheveled bridesmaids.” The band begins to play, and the women dance and sway to the music—Theo, observing their erratic movements, thinks that they have possibly been drugged.
The inversion—or perversion—of ritual is something that Theo has noted with respect to the woman pushing a doll in a stroller and the congregants preparing to attend an animal christening. The Quietus is another new ritual which takes its cues and structure from old ones—the sacred rituals of marriage and baptism. Surrender to another person or to God has instead become surrender to death.
Themes
History, Mythology, and Memory Theme Icon
Fatalism and Despair vs. Action and Hope Theme Icon
Apocalypse: Revelation, Renewal, and Redemption Theme Icon
A small crowd of relatives and friends, as well as some SSP officers, have gathered on the beach. The elderly women wade into the water, attach their legs to weights rigged along the underside of two large boats manned by even more SSP, and wait to be pulled into the ocean and deposited “out of sight of land.” Theo tells himself that he has seen enough, but remembers that he “promised” Julian he would watch the Quietus in its entirety.
Theo feels a great despair as he watches the horrific ritual unfold—a perverse baptism in which there is no rebirth. However, now motivated by Julian’s group’s sense of justice and righteousness, he cannot abandon the spectacle before he has seen it all the way through.
Themes
Fatalism and Despair vs. Action and Hope Theme Icon
Apocalypse: Revelation, Renewal, and Redemption Theme Icon
Power and Ambition Theme Icon
There is a “commotion” on the beach—one of the women wading into the water cries and thrashes as she struggles back to the shore. Theo can see that the woman is Hilda Palmer-Smith. Though it’s unclear to Theo whether she’s been forced into the Quietus, by Jasper or by someone else, or whether she’s just changed her mind at the last minute, it’s clear that she needs to be rescued. She is only about twenty yards away from Theo, and he moves to help her, but then one of the soldiers strikes her in the head with his pistol and she falls into the sea. Theo swims out to Hilda, but an officer flings him aside and into the rolling waves.
Though Theo knew that Hilda Palmer-Smith had been considering taking part in a Quietus, to see her forced to death against her will reveals to Theo that there is, as there is with all of Xan’s government and its sanctioned practices, more going on than meets the eye. Theo is thwarted as he attempts to save her, foreshadowing the difficulty that lies ahead if he chooses to confront Xan and the government.
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
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Theo struggles back to shore—the officer “hadn’t intended him to drown.” Theo is weary, and falls unconscious. When he wakes, night has fallen, and he approaches a nearby bed and breakfast to see if there is a vacancy. The proprietor takes him in and offers him a meal and a room. At breakfast the next morning, Theo apologizes for his appearance, but the proprietor insists that she has been waiting for a guest for months. “The town is dying,” she says. When Theo asks her if she saw the Quietus the day before, the innkeeper answers firmly that there is “none of that kind of thing in Southwold.”
Theo’s encounter with both the officer who flings him into the waves and the innkeeper at the bed and breakfast demonstrate the denial that every level of this town—and, by proxy, larger society—are facing. By denying or shrugging off the reality of what is happening—mass murder of elderly citizens due to deeply entrenched fatalism and lack of ability to conceive of a future—society is slipping further and further away from the tenets which once held it together. 
Themes
History, Mythology, and Memory Theme Icon
Fatalism and Despair vs. Action and Hope Theme Icon
Power and Ambition Theme Icon