Childhood's End | Study Guide

Arthur C. Clarke

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Childhood's End | Quotes


He had labored to take man to the stars, and now the stars ... had come to him.

Narrator, Chapter 1

The arrival of the Overlords marks an end to space travel for humanity, which here is presented as something that ultimately fulfills the mission of space travel: to encounter and understand space. But it also hints at a fundamental human willingness to abandon progress, which the Overlords will use to ensure the complacency of most people on Earth.


Can you deny that the Overlords have brought security, peace, and prosperity to the world?

Rikki Stormgren, Chapter 2

After taking over Earth, the Overlords ensure obedience and some degree of loyalty by raising the standard of living for all of humanity. This makes people like Stormgren, who acts as their liaison, complacent in the face of their encroaching influence. Here, he voices the central tension behind their control of Earth. If things are good under the Overlords, why would anyone fight against the Overlords' presence?


Karellen no longer felt the need for ... force. He had thrown away his psychological weapons.

Narrator, Chapter 5

Before revealing himself to humanity, Karellen tells them that the many ships that once hovered over Earth were actually not real; they were illusions designed to make humanity think there were more Overlords ready to attack if needed. By sharing this, Karellen does two things. First, he ensures that humanity knows he is not as much of a threat as they may have once believed, and second, he is showing that the Overlords had once believed humankind might fight back but have since realized they would not. Humans have become fully reliant and subservient to the Overlords, who no longer worry about a threat to their leadership.


Fifty years is ample time ... to change a world and its people almost beyond recognition.

Narrator, Chapter 6

Early on in the novel, Karellen reveals that he will show humanity what the Overlords look like in 50 years, which will mark the first time there will be no living person with memory of a time before the Overlords. This suggests that the Overlords are actively working to change not just the conditions of life, but the way people understand themselves in the world. It works, as this chapter shows; the Overlords have completely altered Earth and its inhabitants, creating a world where they will be welcomed rather than feared.


here had been no ... new works of literature, music, painting, or sculpture for a generation.

Narrator, Chapter 6

One of the juxtapositions Clarke creates is that while life is peaceful and without need, it is also without art and inspiration. Here the reader learns that humanity has stopped creating anything worthwhile, despite having a great deal of free time and resources. This suggests that for Clarke, struggle and creation are intertwined, a complex idea that recurs throughout the novel.


It was a ... fairer, but a ... smaller planet than it had been a century before.

Narrator, Chapter 8

Again, Clarke creates a dichotomy between a world that is fair but smaller in ambition and one that is difficult but larger in potential. For him, creation demands difficulty to serve as inspiration, and without it, humanity loses significant direction. Although humankind is living in peace and equality, Clarke suggests that these conditions do not foster growth and progress.


When the Overlords had abolished war and hunger and disease, they had also abolished adventure.

Narrator, Chapter 8

While earlier it was made clear that the arts had languished, here too the reader learns that science and discovery have also languished. Without problems to solve, Clarke seems to be suggesting that humankind will have no need of progress and will instead stagnate intellectually.


Would there ever be a winter again? It was unthinkable.

Narrator, Chapter 10

Although foreign to the reader, the Earth in this novel is populated by people who are unable to grasp even the slightest difficulty. For them, something as simple as the worries of winter—which here represents a period of hardship—are unfathomable. Their lives are so comfortable that true difficulty is outside their realm of experience.


Where do we go from here?

Narrator, Chapter 10

After more than half a century of Overlord rule, humankind is becoming restless. Despite their comfort, humanity sees no way forward. Utopia has been achieved, but that leaves little room for advancement. As a result, it is not clear what humanity will look like in the future, if it will look different at all.


But the stars are not for man.

Karellen, Chapter 14

By revealing to humankind that humanity will not be able to understand the cosmos and therefore is unable to travel space, Karellen is upending one of the key frames through which humankind has understood its place in the universe. Rather than being a place where humans can achieve greatness, here Karellen is suggesting that the "stars" belong to others, not to humans. This act of ownership puts humanity on a subservient footing compared to other beings, including the Overlords.


There's nothing left to struggle for, and there are too many distractions and entertainments.

George Greggson, Chapter 15

One of the key points Clarke highlights is the difference between art and entertainment. Entertainment is available in abundance, something George is here decrying. Art and meaningful pastimes are not available anymore, and humanity struggles to create something in New Athens like what they had before the Overlords arrived on Earth.


They had determined to reform the world, but ... they were destroying the soul of man.

Narrator, Chapter 15

For most of the novel, the intentions of the Overlords are not entirely clear, and few humans seem to question what is at stake for them with the Overlords taking over Earth. In this passage, the narrator poses a question that indicates humanity had started to consider whether the Overlords were aware of the toll their actions were taking on Earth, or if they truly cared.


[George] had subconsciously assumed that the Overlords possessed all knowledge and all power ...

Narrator, Chapter 18

When the Overlords reveal that the Overmind is more powerful than they are, it upends what had been the governing logic of the novel's power dynamics. Humanity had assumed that the Overlords were the most powerful beings in the universe, but here it is revealed that they are not, and that something else is more powerful than they are. Had humanity known this, or rather not assumed that the Overlords were superior to all else, would humans have fought harder to maintain Earth's sovereignty?


Humanity had lost its future ... when its children are taken from it.

Narrator, Chapter 19

For much of the book, the Overlords are cast as distant, but ultimately harmless, if not flat out positive for Earth. However, when the Overlords take the children of Earth, it becomes clear that destroying the planet and those who live on it was always their goal. They went about it in a unique way, but the end result was the inevitable domination and destruction of Earth.


Most remained, to meet the end among the broken fragments of their dreams.

Narrator, Chapter 21

When the children were taken away, the people of New Athens chose to destroy the island colony. This marks the final moment when humankind gives up to the Overlords. Rather than fight for their children or strive to create a new world in their absence, humanity abandons all hope and chooses death over an uncertain but seemingly dark future.

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