In Chapter Six, Foster introduces the concept of Christianity and its significance in prose in hopes of teaching students how to discern a Biblical allusion as one. Foster begins by warning the reader that in a religiously diverse—or even secular—society such as ours, some allusions to the Bible will not be understood by scholars due to their lack of knowledge of certain subtle references to Christianity, such as floods, gardens, etc. After all, culture, according to Foster later on, is heavily influenced by its dominant religion and many past authors have used the Bible as a conduit for their ideas and concepts in order to transmit a message easily to their audience, assuming they are Christian. Nonetheless, Foster compiles a list for the religiously less astute of certain instances in which Judeo-Christian references are adapted, pulling from classics and lesser-known pieces to demonstrate its prevalence. The author, more importantly, discusses the fact that its use is twofold; it could be translated either to exemplify archetypal situations and characters or—more so in contemporary texts—use it ironically as to draw distance between religion and modern society. However, Foster stresses that one does not have to be a Bible scholar but, rather, be wise enough to turn to the Bible for assistance when picking up on an author’s subtleties.
I can’t now remember the day he died except for one incident: my mother sitting at the kitchen table, weeping at last tears of anger and frustration. When, clumsy and embarrassed, I tried to put my arms around her, she wailed: “Why do I always have such rotten luck?” It seemed then to that twelve-year-old, as it seems now, an inadequate response to personal tragedy, and its banality influenced my attitude to my mother for the rest of my childhood. That was unjust and judgemental, but children are unjust and judgmental to their parents.
Although I have forgotten, or perhaps deliberately put out of mind, all but the one memory of the day my father died, I can recall every hour of the day he was cremated: the thin drizzle that made the crematorium gardens look like a pointillist painting; the waiting in the mock cloister until an earlier cremation was over and we could file in and take our places in the stark pine pews; the smell of my new suit; the wreaths stacked up against the chapel wall; the smallness of the coffin—it seemed impossible to believe that it actually helped my father’s body. My mother’s anxiety that all should go well was increased by the fear that her baronet brother-in-law would attend. He didn’t, and neither did Xan, who was at his prep school. But my aunt came, too smartly dressed, and the only woman not predominantly in black, giving my mother a not-unwelcome cause for complaint. It was after the baked meats of the funeral feast that the two sisters agreed I should spend the next summer holiday at Woolcombe and the pattern for all subsequent summer holidays was established. But my main memory of the day is its atmosphere of suppressed excitement and a strong disapproval which I felt was focused on me. It was then that I first heard the phrase reiterated by friends and neighbors who, in their unaccustomed black, I hardly knew: “You’ll have to be the man of the family, Theo. Your mother will look to you.” I couldn’t then say what for nearly forty years I have known to be true. I don’t want anyone to look to me, not for protection, not for happiness, not for love, not for anything.
In Chapter Four of The Children of Men, protagonist Theodore, in reflecting on his past, writes of the death of his father; a critical moment in terms of Theo’s morality and character. In describing the events that transpired that day, author P.D. James offers subtle, yet important details which help to develop the reader’s understanding of Theo, more specifically his atypical, Christ-like characteristics among other Biblical allusions. In the beginning of the excerpt, Theo’s mother is seen crying at the kitchen table as Theo awkwardly attempts to comfort her after the death of her husband. This can be compared to Jesus at the Eighth Station as he consoles the weeping women of Jerusalem, albeit Theo’s failure to fully do so himself. This creates distance between Theo and a morality that is often possessed by so many Christ figures as the reader sees Theo’s selfishness and judgement via the irony of the Biblical allusion. Additionally, the mother, a high-strung woman often jealous of Theo’s aunt, partakes in an act of communion after the funeral feast in which two sisters come to the peaceful agreement of having Theo join his cousin Xan for holidays at Woolcombe. Furthermore, Theo is described to be twelve years old around the time of his father’s death, drawing another similarity between Jesus Christ and the young protagonist since Jesus is also twelve years old when Joseph is last mentioned in the Bible. This, however, validates the absence of a relationship between an emotionally-stunted Theo and his father as P.D. James compares the two to the Biblical father and son whose relationship was one of happenstance rather than biological.
Despite the many biblical references and, more notably, the evident comparisons drawn between Jesus Christ and Theodore, the allusions, rooted in irony, help the reader see Theo’s true nature and character, unlike Luke’s traditionitional characterization of Christ. This irony amplifies both Theo’s lack of morality after his blunt and obvious reluctance to assume a position of responsibility and selflessness. This, in turn, helps introduce the concept of sacrifice, an important theme for The Children of Men. Though James develops this theme ironically in this section, these Biblical allusions help to characterize by using archetypal qualities; ones many people can easily draw comparisons to, whether it be show them to be morally sound and self-sacrificing or the opposite. On page 145, Gascoigne is arrested for attempting to interfere with the Quietus, ultimately sacrificing his freedom and life to a rebellious cause just as Romans captured and killed the heretic Jesus Christ. Furthermore, the most obvious example is Luke being killed by the group of barbaric and violent Omegas, which not only emanates typical Christ-like qualities but demonstrates a selfless sacrifice of his life for Julian. Lastly, a development—or a shift, rather—is seen in Theo and his morality towards the end as the protagonist begins to feel love towards Julian and the newborn baby and Xan and Theo confront one another, showing Theo’s loyalty to the mother and son and a great self-sacrifice on his part.
What is it within our humanity that propels humans to sacrifice themselves to a person or a cause, whether it be physically or morally?
Our collective human nature, whether corrupted or not, is heavily influenced by our values and the actions we take. In P.D. James’s The Children of Men, protagonist Theodore Faron lives in a near-future, dystopian society in which anxiety and hopelessness ravage the world’s populations due to an infertility crisis, affecting everyone. Using Biblical allusions and archetypes, James successfully develops characters and their morality to demonstrate the prevalent theme of sacrifice in a society in which human nature is deeply challenged. The work’s statement regarding the theme is that despite our innate selfishness, it is within our ability as humans to transcend this and sacrifice ourselves for a greater cause.
In this chapter of How to Read Literature Like a Professor, Foster discusses the significance of violence in literature. Stating it to be ubiquitous and inescapable, violence plays an important role, disseminating itself into many genres and works of literature. It appears in classics by Shakespeare and Frost, as well as lesser known, or even unlikely, novels by Woolf or Lawrence. Nonetheless, what differs between all uses of violence is the meaning behind it. Foster explicitly describes it as a “symbolic action;” one not of happenstance, but rather intention and sensitivity. Violence is a form of conflict that often helps drive plot but mostly enables the author to address “…dilemmas, …crises, ….or concerns” whether it be social, political, psychological, moral, etc. Violence should never be taken literally, according to Foster, and must be dealt with delicately in order to find the purpose of it.
The second woman suddenly seized the doll, tore it from the coverings and, without a word, swung it twice round her head by the legs and dashed it against the stone wall with tremendous force. The face shattered and the shards of porcelain fell tinkling to the pavement. The owner was for two seconds absolutely silent. And then she screamed. The sound was horrible, the scream of the tortured, the bereaved, a terrified, high-pitched squealing, inhuman yet all too human, unstoppable. She stood there, hat askew, head thrown back to the heavens, her mouth stretched into a gape from which poured her agony, her grief, her anger. She seemed at first unaware that the attacker still stood there, watching her with silent contempt. Then the woman turned and walked briskly through the open gate, across the courtyard and into the Ashmolean. Suddenly aware that the attacker had escaped, the doll-owner galumphed after her, still screaming, then, apparently realizing the hopelessness of it, returned to the pram. She had grown quieter now and, sinking to her knees, began gathering the broken pieces, sobbing and moaning gently, trying to match them as she might a jigsaw puzzle. Two gleaming eyes, horribly real, joined by a spring, rolled towards Theo. He had a second’s impulse to pick them up, to help, to speak at least a few words of comfort… He walked briskly on. No one else went near her.
This passage possesses a great deal of weight in regards to the ambiance and mood of The Children of Men. The first chapter to be not be told in the form of introspective journaling, but rather third person, Chapter Six offers the reader a sense of the what life is like in this almost-apocalyptic society and how people cope with the hopelessness of the mass infertility. Specifically here in this excerpt, the reader experiences a violent and visceral example of the dystopian society. A woman, who has a inanimate doll as a replacement for a baby, suffers the loss of her “child” after such a brutal attack by an unknown woman. This demonstrates that women and their innate maternal instincts endure many more hardships in this time of mass infertility, turning borderline delirious with their use of dolls to replace nurseries and prams. Furthermore, it exemplifies the loss of morality on both the perpetrator and Theo, the bystander. The heinous act is visibly offensive and heartless, making the quasi-mother beyond distraught; however, almost equally as offensive is the complete disregard of the woman as she is left alone while ravaged by trauma and loss.
This scene, violent and immoral in nature, frames the scope of the society in which Theo lives in. Juxtaposed by Theo’s own pre-existing loss or lack of morality, the loss of morality in a hopeless society introduces the theme of loss and death in The Children of Men. A sensitive, yet essential theme for the novel, loss and death while paired with violence are, as expected, prevalent within the literary work. For instance, in the novel’s opening scene, Theo discusses the death of Joseph Ricardo, the last human born on Earth. His death, casting a somber beginning to the novel, epitomizes loss, specifically of humanity and compassion, since Ricardo died in a bar fight; rather violent, vain, and immoral considering the gravity of the crisis following the year Omega. Furthermore, Theo later on unintentionally kills the elderly couple, Luke dies at the hands of the savage Omegas, Miriam, the archetypal maternal figure, dies after being brutally strangled; these all exemplify the violence and, consequently, loss of life, morality, and humanity in a world engulfed in anxiety and hopelessness.
In the face of death, how are human nature and morality affected and, if lost, what can a society do to preserve it?
As humans are confronted with death, our beliefs and perceptions change, shaping our reality and morals to cope with the loss. In her literary masterpiece, The Children of Men, author P.D. James writes of a dystopian society set in the future, in which protagonist Theodore Faron is stuck in a dying, hopeless world amidst a universal infertility crisis. Furthermore, James explores themes such as loss and death by using violence to reinforce the concept of loss of morality in a world plagued by uncertainty and death. The work’s statement regarding the theme is that despite living in a mortal world in which death and grief are inevitable, we must do what we can within our power to preserve our morality.
In this chapter, Foster discusses an early and rudimentary literary archetype: the quest. An essential element to storytelling and literature, the quest consists of a character embarking on a journey and, according to Foster, satisfies each of the following: a quester, a place to go, a stated reason to go, the challenges faced throughout, and the real, underlying reason. Foster explains that the stated reason is almost never true, as the protagonist’s actual reason ends up being acquiring self-knowledge. He then further develops this idea by stating that questers are often young, inexperienced, or immature and the quest provides development of plot and growth for character for this reason. However, Foster warns that all acts of voyage or journeys are not always quests; it may simply add movement for the story, but not growth.
….Apart from the small noises of his own making he was surrounded by total silence, the empty floors of the house piled above him like a physical weight. And it was at the moment when he raised the glass to his lips that he heard a knock. It was low but urgent, a single tap on the glass quickly followed by three others, as definite as a signal. He drew back the curtains and could just make out the outline to the face almost pressed to the glass. A dark face. He knew instinctively rather than could see that it was Miriam. He drew back the two bolts and unlocked the door and immediately she slipped in.
She wasted no time on greeting but said, “You’re alone?”
“Yes. What is it? What happened?”
“They’ve got Gascoigne. We’re on the run. Julian needs you. It wasn’t easy for her to come herself so she sent me.”
He was surprised that he could match her excitement, the half-suppressed terror, with such calmness. But, then, this visit, although unforeseen, seemed but the natural culmination of this week’s mounting anxiety. He had known something traumatic would happen, that some extraordinary demand would be made on him. Now the summons had come.
In Chapter 21, the plot accelerates as the tension between the Five Fishes, the revolutionary group that is against the Warden, and the government is heightened as Gascoigne, a member of the group, is captured and time cannot be wasted as his confession is inevitable. Contrasted with the brief feeling of peace at the beginning of this chapter, the feeling of urgency and imminent danger is what propels the remaining Five Fishes members to leave in order to escape from government persecution. Their journey, which accounts for a majority of the latter half of the book, is important to analyze due to the quest-like qualities it possesses, as well as the effect it has on Theo. According to Tom Foster’s five elements, James quickly establishes the groundwork for the archetypal quest of the hero. There exists a quester (Theo), a place to go (anywhere away from the hands of the Warden or the Grenadiers), a stated reason (to stay alive), challenges, and the actual reason. While the penultimate element is clear and in abundance, such as experiencing death, guilt, betrayal, and fear along the way, the actual reason, Theo’s personal enlightenment, is more complex and deviates from the rules of Tom Foster’s five elements.
Theo is fifty years old, well past the age of pubescence and intellectual immaturity. He is in a sense is emotionally-stunted, which is seen in great prevalence throughout the novel in the flashbacks of his childhood and henceforth. Thus, the actual reason for the quest and the subsequent lesson learned is emotional growth and the feeling of love and hope in a society ridden with death. This quest helps set up the theme of hope and its survival. Beginning on page 153 in which Julian’s pregnancy is revealed to Theo, hope takes on a new role in The Children of Men as it is felt and rather than its lack thereof. Before, hopelessness and despair were easily seen in the forms of mass suicides and delirium inflicting the female population, as well as the elderly, in the wake of the absence of both new life and hope. Nonetheless, the pregnancy and the promise of Julian’s baby propels Theo forward, driving him to reach his own personal enlightenment. He finds himself confronted with new feelings of dependence from others, responsibility, ambition, and love for Julian and the baby, stating he is envious of the fact that it is not of his own blood being born. His growth, which is built on his newfound motivation for life, is exemplified by demonstrating that hope should never be abandoned and must prevail over fear and despair.
What effect does hope, or its lack thereof, have on a society and how is it revitalized in times of despair?
When faced with loss, humans inevitably lose hope and this loss engenders a sense of despair and of little motivation for what the future holds. In P.D. James’s dystopian novel The Children of Men, a society set in the future, burdened with an inescapable infertility crisis, must struggle with the imminent death of their very own society. Using the journey and character development of protagonist Theodore Faron, James is able to skillfully develop the theme of hope in a discouraged and death-ridden society. The work’s statement regarding the theme is despite life’s most disheartening and painful aspects, hope must triumph in order to preserve our humanity.
In this chapter of How To Read Literature Like a Professor, Foster discusses the use of symbols and its inherent implications. Foster prefaces by saying that many characters or objects in both poetry and prose can oftentimes be symbols with a strong enough argument. Only possible meanings or interpretations can be discussed when an author uses symbolism. However, symbols are not simply one thing; they should be treated sensitively and with great scrutiny as symbols never mean only one thing. Building upon this point, Foster addresses allegories and instructs readers that they are typically used in a one-to-one fashion with other things, such as Orwell’s famous Animal Farm. Symbolism can also be used for actions, pointing to Frost’s The Road Not Taken as an example of such. Foster finishes the chapter by warning readers that symbols are emotional in nature and only exist through the associations readers make and what they bring to the novel when reading, making it important to pay attention to the manner in which a possible symbol may have on one’s self.
Rolf moved up to stand beside Theo. “You and I have got to talk.”
“We can’t have two leaders of this expedition.”
“Expedition, is that what this is? Five ill-equipped fugitives with no clear idea where we’re going or what we’re going to do when we get there. It hardly requires a hierarchy of command. But if you get any satisfaction from calling yourself the leader, it doesn’t worry me as long as you don’t expect unquestioning obedience.”
“You were never part of this, never part of the group. You had your chance to join and turned it down. You’re only here because I sent for you.”
“I’m here because Julian sent for me. We’re stuck with each other.I can put up with you since I have no choice. I suggest that you exercise a similar tolerance.”
“I want to drive.” Then, as if he hadn’t made his meaning clear: “I want to take over the driving from now on”
Theo laughed, his mirth spontaneous and genuine. “Julian’s child will be heiled as a miracle. You will be hailed as the father of that miracle. The new Adam, the begetter of the new race, the saviour of mankind. That’s enough potential power for any man—more power, I suspect— than you’ll be able to cope with. And you’re worried you’re not getting your share of driving!”
In this excerpt from Chapter 23, the reader obtains a firm grasp of Rolf and his character, translated into a well-written scene that exemplifies his relentless struggle for power. In his small argument with Theo, Rolf demands the acknowledgement and status of power within the group, feeling threatened by Theo and his intelligent character. Allegorical in nature, this excerpt, in which Rolf argues for control of the car, frames Rolf constant bout for authority simply for the sake of power. Theo reveals this flaw of Rolf moments later by saying Rolf proposes “…to replace one dictatorship with another. Benevolent this time… Most tyrants begin that way.” Even more so, the baby, though unborn, is a source of power for characters in the book, specifically Rolf. This is supported by the fact that when it is revealed that Julian has been unfaithful and hence, the baby is not Rolf’s, his supposed fertility has now lost its leverage and in return, his deceitful and selfish nature leads him to deserting and betraying the group.
Rolf’s thoughtless hunger for control, though unsuccessful, epitomizes the theme of power found heavily throughout The Children of Men. Though seen more in a political sense, author P.D. James thoroughly executes the theme, discussing the implications it has on social, political, and even interpersonal relationships. In the first chapter of the novel, the readers get a sense of the social structures that exist in the terminally-ill society. Omegas, hailed for being the last born in the year 1995, are intoxicated with the power in which the world has put onto them and some, who are referred as the Painted Faces, use this power maliciously, partaking in violent acts which include the murder of Luke later on. Furthermore, political power is seen heavily as the Five Fishes, anti-government rebels, challenge the authority of the Warden and demand for change in a tyrannical society. Acts of the government, such as the Quietus and the imprisonment of constituents at the unbearable Isle of Man, are frequently met with bombings and attempted insurrections. However, the greatest challenge for power against Xan, the Warden and Theo’s cousin, is epitomized at the end when Theo shoots and kills his cousin and the ring, the same one Theo criticized Xan for, is taken and is subsequently donned by Theo for power and protection in light of the birth of Julian’s baby.
Why is power, whether physical, mental, social, or political, so enviously sought after and to what degree does it shape the nature of our relationships?
Humans are innately hungry for control and authority and blind to its flaws and consequences. In P.D. James’s dystopian novel The Children of Men, a near-future society is ravaged by mass hysteria and depression in light of an infertility crisis. In the discouraged society, protests against the Warden’s form of governing and struggles for control plague the despaired society, placing protagonist and cousin to the Warden, Theodore Faron, in the middle of many conflicts. This, in turn, establishes the theme of power in the novel and helps to explore the relationships that form, whether good or bad, around power. The work’s statement regarding the theme is despite power is a sensitive, yet critical, element to all our relationships and though very sought after, it must be dealt with carefully and responsibly.