Childhood's End | Study Guide

Arthur C. Clarke

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Childhood's End | Chapter 4 | Summary

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Summary

Stormgren asks his friend Pierre Duval to help him spy on the Overlords. Duval sets up a scanner in Stormgren's briefcase prior to his next meeting with Karellen, which reveals that Karellen is sitting behind a one-way pane of glass, observing Stormgren during their talks. During that meeting, Karellen tells Stormgren that the Overlords will reveal themselves to humanity in 50 years, when there will be no one left alive who remembers Earth without the Overlords.

At their next meeting, Stormgren catches a glimpse of Karellen through the glass after Karellen tells him they will not be continuing the liaison program. Thirty years later, news of Stormgren possibly seeing Karellen has been broken by the press, but when asked by a reporter, Stormgren denies having done so.

Analysis

This chapter builds on the shift in the previous chapter. Although for years the Overlords have acted more as distant guardians than an active force on Earth, Karellen reveals that this is going to change, even if not right away. By telling Stormgren that they will be revealing themselves after 50 years, the Overlords are also telling Earth that they will be staying for some time; they will still be a presence in five decades and are relying on the next generation to grow up under their rule and with some sense of familiarity with them. This is because past takeovers have failed when the Overlords reveal their true form, suggesting that they are visually terrifying.

A recurring question throughout the novel is whether the pursuit of knowledge will inevitably result in positive gains. At various turns throughout the novel, knowledge is portrayed as something that can do harm to either humanity at large or to an individual who goes too far too quickly. Here, Stormgren makes the decision to try to see Karellen and is able to do so. The fact that the Overlords can see everything suggests that this is not a mistake, although there is no discussion between Karellen and Stormgren about Stormgren seeing what the Overlords look like. Nonetheless, Stormgren decides that humanity is not prepared to know what the Overlords look like and chooses to maintain their secret by keeping it for the rest of his life.

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