In 1994—over twenty-five years before the start of the book’s narrative, and the year before Year Omega, the end of fertility—Theo accidentally backed his car over his only daughter, fifteen-month-old Natalie, while leaving the house for work. The “horror and guilt” of such a treacherous but unintended act overcame Theo’s capacity for grief, leaving him mostly numb and disaffected. His wife, Helena, believing that he “cared less” about parenthood, eventually left him, and Theo himself admits in a private diary entry that when it comes to Helena’s suspicion that he loved their daughter less, she was right. Theo describes the way in which his killing Natalie also “killed” the attraction and love between him and Helena, again mirroring his descriptions of people’s dwindling capacity for sexual interest and attraction in the wake of Year Omega. Natalie symbolizes the ways in which fertility and reproduction were, in the days before Year Omega, taken for granted. Natalie’s swift death and the horror left in its wake then mirrors humanity’s shame, terror, and guilt over their sudden inability to procreate. Tied in with themes of history, memory, and despair, Natalie’s death is a constant shadow over Theo’s life—though it was an accident, the way it revealed his darkest parts to him and to Helena has shaped both their lives. Theo has isolated himself, while Helena has found a new partner and has lavished her affection upon cats, which are still able to breed and produce “babies.”
Natalie Quotes in The Children of Men
Like a lecherous stud suddenly stricken with impotence, we are humiliated at the very heart of our faith in ourselves. For all our knowledge, our intelligence, our power, we can no longer do what the animals do without thought. No wonder we worship and resent them.
[Helena] thought I cared less, and she was right. She thought I cared less because I loved less, and she was right about that too. I was glad to be a father. When Helena told me she was pregnant I felt what I presume are the usual emotions of pride, tenderness, and amazement. I did feel affection for my child, although I would have felt more had she been prettier, more affectionate, more responsive, less inclined to whine. I’m glad that no other eyes will read these words. She has been dead for almost twenty-seven years and I still think of her with complaint.
“I killed her.”
Miriam’s voice was firm, loud, almost shouting in [Theo’s] ear. “You didn’t kill her! If she was going to die of shock it would have happened when you first showed her the gun. You don’t know why she died. It was natural causes, it must have been. She was old and she had a weak heart. You told us. It wasn’t your fault, Theo, you didn’t mean it.”
No, he almost groaned, no, I didn’t mean it. I didn’t mean to be a selfish son, an unloving father, a bad husband. When have I ever meant anything? Christ, what harm couldn’t I do if I actually started to mean it!
He said: “The worst is that I enjoyed it. I actually enjoyed it! I enjoyed the excitement, the power, the knowledge that I could do it.”