Skip over navigation

Childhood's End

Arthur C. Clarke

Chapters 5–6

Chapters 3–4

Chapters 7–8

Summary

Chapter 5

It is fifty years since Stormgren retired, and the day that the Overlords will finally reveal themselves to mankind has arrived. There is only one ship now, Karellen's ship, hovering over New York; all the other ships, over the other world capitals, turned out to be mere projections. The ship moves away from New York and lands in a wide field. As thousands of reporters and onlookers surround the ship, a door opens. Karellen's voice is heard, inviting two children near the entrance to come up. Karellen then steps out of the ship, cradling a child in each arm. He is much taller than a human, perhaps nine or ten feet tall. He has ebony-black skin, leathery wings, and large horns protruding from his head. He also has a long, barbed tail. In short, Karellen looks exactly like a medieval drawing of the Devil. To the credit of the Overlords' work on Earth, only a few humans faint at the sight of this ancient legend come to life.

Chapter 6

In the fifty years since Stormgren's retirement, the Overlords have created a single world government. In a flashback, Karellen explains to Stormgren that the best way to fight problems is through the "correct" use of power. For instance, if a dictator chose to lead his nation in defying the Overlords and their power, Karellen would not simply destroy the country with weapons. Instead, he would slowly drive the leader mad with whispers in their head, preventing them from sleeping or thinking clearly. With these subtle, psychological methods, the Overlords were able to achieve peace on Earth.

The brief shock and revulsion that some people felt after seeing the Overlords for the first time has quickly worn off, though some people are still panicked when they see an Overlord. The narrator suggests that this may be due to "racial memory," the idea that humans may have had a disastrous contact with the Overlords in the past, and so they had developed an instinct to fear the appearance of the Devil. The Overlords now rarely leave their ship, for the gravity of Earth is too strong for them, and the sunlight too harsh. Despite the fact that they have revealed themselves, only a handful of humans have ever seen an Overlord in person.

By the standards of all previous ages, Earth is now a utopia. Every man is guaranteed food, water, and comfortable shelter, even if they choose not to work. War and violence are a thing of the past; when the resources are spread out evenly everywhere, there is no desire for theft. Even crimes of passion are nearly unheard of, for the rising standards of living have also contributed to rising intelligence and psychological stability. Many cities have been abandoned, for the methods of trade and commerce have radically changed. Production is almost entirely automatic, handled by robots and automated factories. Humans work for the sake of luxury items only. The pace of life has also slowed down; people have more time to meditate and contemplate. They spend much of their time in pursuits of leisure, such as playing sports, watching television and films, or going to school.

Religion has been almost eliminated due to a device given to scientists by the Overlords. It allows a person to look at any instant in time over the last five thousand years, although there are occasionally gaps in the timeline. But this allowed people to see the true lives of people like Christ and Muhammed, and it did much to eliminate religion as an influence. But with the end of strife comes an end to the passion for art, and the works of the current generation do not come close to those of the past. No one is worried about this but a few philosophers. Earth has yet to suffer from the greatest danger to a utopia: boredom. But most importantly, while Earth may be a utopia, no one knows what the Overlords' ultimate plans for Earth are.

Analysis

Chapter 5 marks the end of "Guardian Angel," the short story that served as the springboard for Childhood's End. The main idea of "Guardian Angel" was the irony of having the saviors of mankind turn out to look exactly like the Devil. This can suggest many things. It could be that the author is suggesting that the Overlords have something bad planned for mankind, someday. It could be a lesson not to judge a book by its proverbial cover: even though they look like the Devil, the Overlords are very kind to humans. But more likely, the author simply thought it would be interesting to find a way to make the Devil real. The original short story ended with this:

This hints at something terrible far in the distant future. Could this be Armageddon? If this were true, then the arrival of Karellen, the Devil, is the coming of the Antichrist. But if that's so, then Karellen seems to be an awfully friendly Antichrist. On the other hand, there are some people who might argue that a utopia is nothing less than Armageddon, because it would almost certainly result in the stagnation of the human race--a kind of intellectual Armageddon. But the most important thing is the irony: the Devil as the savior of humanity.

Chapter 6 deals more with the issues of a utopia itself. First, there is the question of how such a utopia is created. Karellen tells Stormgren that all political problems can be solved through "the correct use of force." Stormgren rightly points out that this seems to argue that "might makes right"--that is, the Overlords are just bullying humans into doing the "right" thing. But the important word is "correct." By using the "correct" use of force. The Overlords use subtle methods to make sure the humans do what they're asked to do. Karellen tries to minimize the amount of human suffering.

The utopia created by the Overlords certainly sounds appealing. Everyone has enough to eat, everyone can do whatever they want. There is little crime and disease, and no war or poverty. But there are already clouds on the horizon: there are no longer any good works of art, and soon, people may soon become bored. People in a utopia lack a sense of purpose; this may soon become a problem for many people on Earth.

More Help

Previous Next

Readers' Notes allow users to add their own analysis and insights to our SparkNotes—and to discuss those ideas with one another. Have a novel take or think we left something out? Add a Readers' Note!

Follow Us