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Themes, Motifs and Symbols

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1 Themes, Motifs and Symbols
Childhood’s End Themes, Motifs and Symbols

2 Utopia No utopia can make everyone happy
THEME: A central idea or statement that unifies and controls an entire literary work. Utopia No utopia can make everyone happy Jan Roddricks still longs to explore outer space Freedom League rebels against the Overlords’ rule With the promise of utopia comes the threat of boredom and complacency The New Athens Colony has to be founded in order to perpetuate artistic and scientific achievement

3 Themes: Knowledge and Adventure
Humans have an innate need for adventure and exploration At the Grand Canyon: Hundreds of meters down the shadowed slope at whose brim Karellen stood, a mule-train was slowly winding its way into the valley’s depths. It was strange, Karellen thought, that so many human beings still seized every opportunity for primitive behavior. They could reach the bottom of the canyon in a fraction of the time, and in far greater comfort, if they chose. Yet they preferred to be jolted along tracks which were probably as unsafe as they looked. (102)

4 Themes: Knowledge and Adventure
Some knowledge exceeds human capacity Jan realizes that the stars are not for man. Karellen reminds humanity that some knowledge exceeds our capacity. The aim of all humanity is to do something better than anyone else, that is, to be an individual. Jan and Professor Stanley both long to achieve something that will be remembered by posterity. Even in the face of the world’s destruction, Jan takes pride in being the world’s best pianist.

5 Now, it’s your turn: With a partner, identify one theme from Childhood’s End Explain the theme and connect it to the text

6 MOTIF: A conspicuous recurring element, such as a type of incident, a device, a reference, or verbal formula Humans as children: the Overlords are the caretakers and protectors of a race that is coming into maturity. The universe was great and vast, but that fact terrified him less than its mystery. George was not a person who thought deeply on such matters, yet sometimes it seemed to him that men were like children amusing themselves in some secluded playground, protected from the fierce realities of the outer world. (150) Dr. Sen to Overlord Inspector: ‘Our problem in bringing up these children must, I imagine, be very similar to yours when confronted with the human race.’ (161)

7 Motifs: Christian Imagery
Childhood's End may be read as an allegorical tale, a morality play set on a science fiction stage. The arrival of the Antichrist, or Satan (the Overlords) the end of humanity (as it dies out after the Overlords' announcement of the coming of the Overmind) an Armageddon and assumption of the faithful into Heaven (as the children of the last generation join the Overmind, destroying the Earth in the process)

8 Motif: Collective Consciousness
The Overmind is that it is a kind of collective conscious, a being of thought and energy composed of the minds of millions of other beings, all working as a single entity. As a race, all humans—even those thousands of years before the children of the last generation—have had some latent abilities of this sort. Ie. When Rashaverak discovers “11 clear cases of partial breakthrough and 27 probables”. This is what provides the explanation for why the Overlords look so similar to a Christian image of the Devil: humans, as a collective, had a premonition or memory of their ultimate end, and they feared that end. Therefore, they made the Overlords into demons, an object of fear and evil.

9 Motifs: Children are unknowable
:‘Enjoy them while you may… They will not be yours for long.’ It was advice that might have been given in any age: but now it contained a threat and a terror it had never held before. (177)

10 Now, it’s your turn: With a partner, identify one motif from Childhood’s End Explain the motif and connect it to the text

11 Symbols: The Overlords
The Overlords can be seen as ironic symbols of the Devil. Like the devil, the Overlords bring about the end of humanity. However, whereas Satan would have brought about much death and destruction before the final end, the Overlords bring about peace and prosperity. In the end, humanity does degrade into violence and death, just as predicted in Revelations; and the shepherds of this end are the Overlords. Whether they are evil or not is a matter of perspective; they do the bidding of the Overmind and play a part in the end of humanity and the destruction of Earth.

12 Symbols: New Athens New
New Athens is symbolic of the inevitable decay of a utopian society and the uselessness of peacefully attempting to combat those problems. For all its hopes of artistic achievement, the New Athens colony is ultimately impotent. It is a symbol of the broader utopia of Earth around it. Both are doomed to failure. New

13 Symbols: The Overmind If the Overlords represent the devil, then the Overmind is the closest thing there is to god. The way in which the children of the last generation are incorporated into the Overmind is reminiscent of Christian descriptions of the Rapture, when the souls of the faithful are called into the Divine Presence, there to remain for eternity as part of the Holy Trinity. But, in theory, the Overmind is a thing of science; it should be capable of being studied, understood, and perhaps even destroyed. By placing the Overmind in a science fiction novel, there are certain constraints on how far a symbolic or allegorical comparison can be taken.

14 Symbols: Overlords as British colonists
The Overlords…seldom left their one remaining ship. Perhaps they found it physically uncomfortable on Earth… They were never seen without a belt adorned with complex mechanisms which, it was generally believed, controlled their weight and enabled them to communicate with each other. Direct sunlight was painful to them, and they never stayed in it for more than a few seconds. When they had to go into the open for any length of time, they wore dark glasses which gave them a somewhat incongruous appearance. (71)

15 Overlords as British Colonists, ctd.
At his party, Rupert Boyce explains the Overlords’ interest in paranormal phenomena and human psychology: “Surely you’d study the superstitions of any primitive race you were having dealings with!”

16 Now, it’s your turn: With a partner, find one symbol from Childhood’s End Explain the symbol and connect it to the text

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