Childhood's End | Study Guide

Arthur C. Clarke

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Childhood's End | Context


The Cold War

After the end of World War II, two superpowers emerged that dominated world politics for almost the next 50 years—the communist Soviet Union and the democratic United States. The rivalry between these two powers came to be called the Cold War because direct armed conflict between the Soviet Union and the United States never took place. During the Cold War, the Soviet Union and the United States each viewed its respective ideology, or system of ideas, as being superior and believed it needed to prevent its rival from achieving world domination. The United Kingdom was an ally of the United States in the Cold War.

Part of the context for Childhood's End is how it serves as a commentary on the supposed virtues of the communist system. The Overlords make a utopia—a perfect world—on Earth by creating full equality, peace, and a high standard of living. This is also what communism was supposed to do in the Soviet Union, but the state became authoritarian instead, exerting complete control over people's daily lives. In Childhood's End, Clarke portrays the ways in which a utopia can become a sort of torture, robbing humanity of creativity.

Space Exploration

In the early 1950s, humans were just beginning to explore space. The Space Race, the term given to the competition between the United States and the Soviet Union in their efforts to explore space, drove rapid innovations and pushed the boundaries of science. The United States was beginning to launch exploratory craft into space in the early 1950s, and in 1957 the Soviet Union launched Sputnik. The decade was defined in large part by burgeoning interest in space travel, which spoke to a desire for humankind to go beyond the conventional limits of knowledge and fully master the universe. However, it also gave rise to fears of encountering other life forms, an anxiety and desire captured by the rise of science fiction in literature and films.

Mass Entertainment

As World War II ended and the economies of affected countries began to recover, entertainment became more prevalent. New forms of entertainment included the television, which in the 1950s began entering homes in the West at rapid speed. Televisions were the new frontier in home entertainment, but many feared that the constant distraction (which was actually only available for set hours depending on broadcasting schedules) was going to be damaging to society. Given the ways in which Clarke decries entertainment in Childhood's End, this book could be seen as a reflection on the complacency engendered by easy access to mindless entertainment.

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