At the start of the novel, Theo Faron has just begun keeping a diary—the first page of the book is his first entry. As it is both “the first day of a new year and [his] fiftieth birthday,” Theo believes it is a justified time to begin keeping a record of his thoughts. He says that if he cannot find anything to record, he “shall record the nothing.” However, he does not actually believe that there will be any interest at all in his “record of one man’s last years,” indicating both a compulsion to communicate his story and a revulsion at the thought of displaying any egoism.
The narration of the novel switches between Theo’s diary entries, which are written in the first person, and a third-person narration that offers insights as to the thoughts and feelings that Theo does not record in his diary. Theo Faron comes to think of writing in his diary as a “task”—he is not recording the days of his “over-organized” life for any kind of “pleasure.” The diary is a burden and a liability—it contains Theo’s innermost secrets and thoughts, as well as a record of his activity with The Five Fishes, which becomes increasingly criminal. However, the diary is, for Theo, an “addiction,” and a way to “impose order and purpose on the shapelessness of existence.” Theo’s diary symbolizes his need—and humanity’s similar collective need—to record the events of his present for purposes of preservation for posterity, even at the height of despair over the mass infertility crisis facing the world.
After Theo joins up with the anarchist group The Five Fishes, he embarks on a road trip with them in hopes of finding shelter for the heavily-pregnant Julian. The Five Fishes are being hunted, and Theo’s car, the Fishes hope, will provide them with a little bit of anonymity and perhaps a head start on the authorities. When Theo and the Fishes become stranded on the side of the road, they take some time to rest, and Theo leans against a tree to write his “last entry,” in which he describes having become deeply “at ease with four strangers, one of whom I am learning to love.” As Theo and the Fishes prepare to depart once more, Theo, describing a kind of “euphoria,” completes his final entry, “no longer hav[ing] need” of the “self-regarding and solitary man” who marked its early pages. Theo’s progression—captured in his diary, and represented by his decision to stop writing in it—from his “obsessive self-sufficien[cy]” to welcome and grateful member of a group of individuals fighting for a cause larger than any one of them symbolizes his—and perhaps P.D. James’s—hope for a world in which isolationism and self-obsession give way to global thinking and collective action for a greater good.
Theo’s Diary Quotes in The Children of Men
[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.
The task of writing his journal—and Theo thought of it as a task, not a pleasure—had become part of his over-organized life, a nightly addiction to a weekly routine half imposed by circumstance, half deliberately devised in an attempt to impose order and purpose on the shapelessness of existence.
He went upstairs to fetch his coat, and, mounting one more staircase to the small back room, slipped his diary into the large inner pocket. The action was instinctive; if asked, he would have had difficulty in explaining it even to himself. The diary wasn’t particularly incriminating; he had taken care over that. He had no premonition that he was leaving for more than a few hours the life which the diary chronicled and this echoing house enclosed. And even if the journey were the beginning of an odyssey, there were more useful, more valued, more relevant talismans which he could have slipped into his pocket.