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The Children of Men

The Children of Men (1992) is a dystopian novel by P.D. James set in England in 2021. It is based on a simple yet gruesome and thought-provoking idea: What would happen if, over night, women all over the world stopped becoming pregnant? What would happen if, over the years, that situation turned out to be irrevocable? What influence would universal infertility have on people's minds and attitudes, on their behaviour, on politics? How would public order be maintained? How would society cope with an ever-ageing and dwindling world population[?]? Would there be any hope left? In The Children of Men, James describes a Britain being steadily depopulated, at the same time telling a thrilling tale revolving around a small group of people who cannot, and do not want to, fit in with the disillusioned and apathetic masses.

Warning: Wikipedia contains spoilers

England and the rest of the world 1995 - 2021 (including the genesis of the new order)

It all starts in 1995, which has been referred to as "Year Omega" ever since: Over night, universal infertility sets in. The reason is unknown. The last people to be born -- i e all children born in 1995 -- have come to be called "Omegas": "A race apart", they enjoy various prerogatives[?] and, now in their mid-twenties, generally seem to be very proud to be the youngest humans alive.

Having access to statistical data, the first people to notice that something is wrong are gynaecologists[?], obstetricians, and midwives, whereas couples who want to have a child just think they are not lucky. It takes several more months until the governments all over the world realize the new situation and its far-reaching implications and measures are taken to combat what most people still cannot believe to be true. In the course of time, a number of unprecedented phenomena can be made out:

  • Frantic scientific research sets in. Scientists all over the world try to get to the bottom of the problem and find a solution, but, as it soon turns out, of no avail. Right from the start, there is no inter-racial co-operation though. In the long run, scientific research comes to a complete standstill, with one exception: All medical effort is focused on longevity, on prolonging life, with everyone anxious to keep fit and stay alive.

  • Among the world population, general apathy[?] spreads. People lose hope in the future: If the human race is dying out, they see no point in planning the future or in preserving their national heritage. In 2008, there is a marked increase in the suicide rate. Some women just go crazy, pushing prams with dolls in them or dressing up kittens in baby clothes.

  • Superstition is on the rise: Some are waiting and hoping for extraterrestrials to take over. Others fall prey to evangelists who "sell salvation" and claim that man's infertility is God's punishment for his disobedience and sinfulness. Also, small groups spring up who perform human sacrifices.

In 2006, a man called Xan Lyppiatt takes over from the last Prime Minister and calls himself Warden of England. It is the year in which the last general election is held: There have been no elections since. Out of necessity -- people have lost all interest in politics -- and the greed for power, Lyppiatt abolishes democracy and replaces it with a dictatorship. He is called a despot and a tyrant by his opponents, but officially the new society is referred to as egalitarian. In 2021, after the Warden has been in power for 15 years, England can be characterized as follows:

  • There is no separation of power[?]. Britain is governed by decree of the Council of England, which represents the executive branch (the government) and consists of five people only. Below that level, there are District, Regional and Local Councils, whose chairmen are appointed by the Warden (rather than elected). Parliament still exists, but its function has been reduced to an advisory role. It meets once a year. Its members are elected by the District and Regional Councils. The King, too, still exists ("uncrowned" though), but he is under house arrest. The English are no longer interested in royalty.

  • The Grenadiers -- formerly an elite regiment in the British armed forces -- are the Warden's private army. They have to take an oath[?] to the Warden personally (which of course is reminiscent of the German army under Adolf Hitler).

  • The State Secret Police (SSP) ensures that the Council's decrees are executed. They seem to be ubiquitous: The England of the year 2021 is a police state.

  • There are travel restrictions for anyone under 65. Hardly any "exit permits" (passports) are issued by the authorities.

  • The law courts still exist, but as the citizens are very reluctant to do jury service, juries have been abolished altogether. Under the "new arrangements", defendants are tried by a judge and two magistrates[?].

  • Drastic measures have been taken to pacify the citizens and delude them into thinking that the end is not that near and that leading a comfortable life will also be possible in the years to come. For example, a deportation policy has been adopted: A Penal Colony has been established on the Isle of Man. All criminals, even burglars, are dumped there and left to their own devices. There is starvation and even cannibalism there. The island is ruled (or rather run) on the principles of Social Darwinism by those convicts who are strongest, who have been able to seize power and who are able to oppress the other prisoners. There is no remission[?]: Once you are there, you are there for life. Escape from the island is virtually impossible. Visitors are forbidden, and prisoners are not allowed to write or receive letters.

  • Generally, the crime rate has decreased rapidly. As there are no young people, there are no young offenders and there is no juvenile delinquency[?]. (Of course there is no sexual abuse of children or child pornography either.) Life has become much more quiet. For example, there is no inner-city violence.

  • By decree of the Council of England, every citizen is encouraged to train skills such as husbandry[?] which they might need to help them survive if they happen to belong to the last human beings on this planet. This policy is all about "survival in comfort", about becoming self-sufficient and being able to produce one's own food.

  • Due to the ever-increasing shortage of labour, there is rationing of supplies. However, if all people are equal, some people are more equal than others. For example, the 70 year-old chairman of the local Oxford Council is said to be doing that job just because he gets a "petrol allowance".

  • Foreign workers are lured into the country and then exploited. It seems the Warden is doing better than the politicians in power in other countries: Young people, preferably Omegas, from poorer countries keep coming to England to work there. These "foreign Omegas" or, generally, "Sojourners" are imported to do the dirty work (collecting rubbish, mending the roads, etc.), invariably wearing yellow and brown overalls. Some of them are employed as domestic workers. This kind of extra help is only for those who qualify (so this is by no means an egalitarian society). They have to live in camps, with the sexes separated from one another, which amounts to a modern form of legalized slavery. At 60, which is the age limit, they are sent back ("forcibly repatriated").

  • On the other hand, English Omegas are not allowed to emigrate so as to prevent further loss of labour or a brain drain.

  • The oldest citizens have become a major problem because they cannot really be cared for properly any longer. For the privileged few, there are nursing homes. All the rest face more gruesome options: They can either (a) die helpless and unassisted in their homes; or they can (b) commit suicide. Everyone seems to have decided already how they are going to end their own lives. Most people seem to have a "final pill" hidden in their medicine chest. More educated and refined people, including the Warden himself, dream about taking their "lethal capsule" with a good bottle of wine. Others yet decide to take part in a so-called Quietus.

  • Quietus have become an institutionalized form of mass suicide, with old people drowning (or rather being drowned) in company. The Quietus are usually held in some quiet, half-deserted seaside town which is not easily accessible so that there are as few relatives as possible around when it happens. There is also talk of "blood money", i e money that you are paid either for information which is used to harm or kill someone or for keeping this information secret.

  • As an ever-increasing part of the land is reverting to wilderness, a resettlement policy has been adopted. Houses, churches and other buildings are boarded up and abandoned, whole villages deserted. Certain roads are officially closed because they can no longer be maintained. Gas, electricity and other services can no longer be guaranteed everywhere. The Council has started a massive resettlement programme, encouraging people to move back to the cities, to so-called "future approved population centres" (or "designated urban districts"). Apart from this, people have started hoarding things like matches, obviously because they are well aware of the fact that both the production and the sale of such everyday goods like matches will stop altogether one day.

  • Generally, nature is reclaiming its due. Many of the beautiful English gardens are being neglected, and woodland is gradually growing. Only few cars are still on the road, and people -- who were brought up in the days of noise pollution -- can once again experience absolute silence and enjoy unpolluted environment. In a highly symbolic scene, a young deer that "can't wait" is trapped in a chapel in Oxford.

  • One might think that in 2021 sex has become some sort of national pastime, what with hardly anything else to do and no danger of unwanted pregnancies. However, people have lost interest in sex, and the state has had to open "pornography centres". Apart from phantom pregnancies, more and more women have what they describe as "painful orgasms", i e the muscular contractions without the accompanying feeling of pleasure. Understandably, people are looking for younger partners.

  • Twice a year all healthy women under 45 have to have a gynaecological examination, and all men must have their sperm tested, most likely just to keep hope alive that intelligent life on this planet might not be over for good. Time and again eugenics plays an important role here: There are lots of "rejects", i e people with a physical or mental handicap, who are excluded.

Generally, the three aims of the Council of England are (1) protection and security, (2) comfort, and (3) pleasure -- corresponding to the Warden's promises of (1) freedom from fear, (2) freedom from want, and (3) freedom from boredom. It is estimated that it will take about 70 years till the last human -- probably an Omega dies: That would be around the year 2090, and he or she would then be about 95 years old.



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