Childhood's End | Study Guide

Arthur C. Clarke

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Childhood's End | Symbols

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The Overlords

The Overlords symbolize the double-edged sword that is scientific discovery. Their rationalism speaks to scientific progress, which in the 1950s was seen as the way of the future. Science and technology can be seen as a potential solution for almost all of humankind's problems, but Clarke posits that removing all struggle from the human experience would be detrimental to progress. He envisions a world in which scientific and technological advancement (via the extremely advanced Overlords) has effectively done away with suffering and hardship of every kind, but at the cost of humanity's ability to create or think independently.

New Athens

The colony of New Athens represents a fresh start for humanity, but one grounded in the past. In order to find greatness, humanity thinks it must look to the past and recreate what it once had rather than looking forward to create something new. This attempt to reclaim human ingenuity has limited success, but it ultimately collapses when faced with the forced future the Overlords and the Overmind have chosen. This suggests that although creativity as a force can be powerful, it is ultimately not powerful enough to stand against something as all-consuming as the Overmind or as rational as the Overlords.

The Overmind

In the absence of religion in the post-Overlord Earth, the Overmind comes to take a god-like place in the story. It symbolizes an inescapable, near-divine fate for which humanity is destined and is being guided toward. However, the Overmind also acts out an apocalyptic vision of the end of the world, effectively causing the Rapture: an Evangelical Christian belief that at the end of the world, all true Christian believers (alive or dead) will be called to heaven. The Overmind essentially brings about the Rapture by absorbing the children and destroying Earth. Although some see scientific discovery and religious belief as being opposing forces, Clarke's vision of this divine entity aligns with technology and space. This suggests that giving up all free thought and belief to any system—be it unquestioned faith or unquestioned drive for scientific advancement—can be detrimental to humankind.

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