Childhood's End | Study Guide

Arthur C. Clarke

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Childhood's End | Chapter 8 | Summary

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Summary

Jan is 27 years old with degrees in mathematics and physics and is also at Rupert's party. He feels that the Overlords and their utopian world are hindering him. He wants to explore space, but since the Overlords arrived, there has been no work done on space travel, making man "a prisoner on his own planet."

Later into the party, when most guests have left, Rupert and some of the partygoers decide to try playing with a divining board, a mystical game that purportedly allows communication with the dead. Rashaverak watches them until they post the final question. Jan asks, "Which star is the Overlords' sun?" The board responds NGS 549672, and Jean passes out.

Analysis

Until now, the Overlords have been portrayed as largely a positive force, and people have been shown to have adjusted to the new way of life on Earth. However, Jan Rodricks stands as a foil to that; he has studied science and wants to explore space, something that stopped when the Overlords arrived because of their advanced technology. Jan feels that their utopia is actually something of a dystopia—a society with injustice and suffering rather than peace and equality—where he is unable to advance in his chosen fields because of the influence of the Overlords.

This chapter also builds on the question of why the Overlords are interested in the paranormal. Clarke explores the relationship between the paranormal and the simply unknown throughout the book; although for much of the novel, the Overlords' interest in the paranormal seems unrelated to science, it becomes clear that what humans believe is paranormal is actually linked to alien activity. Later, the reader will learn about a collective consciousness known as the Overmind, which could be acting through Jean. This could be why she becomes anxious and faints after the divining board reveals the star around which the Overlords' planet circles. This link becomes clearer later, when Jean's children are the first to undergo changes that connect them to the Overmind.

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