Childhood, Politics, and Satire in The Child in Time
For most children there is a strong desire never to grow up. This ‘Peter Pan’ complex has a large impact on most children and therefore very many adults later in life. Many of the images in The Child in Time are related to this desire, and the title is possibly directly related to the concept.
Kate is the first example of this eternal youth. She is not killed by any significant event - she does not succumb to a disease nor is she struck my an unfortunate accident - instead, during what would be a completely standard and banal trip to the supermarket she is abducted. There is not really a feeling that she has been lost for a reason; she disappears without notice or any provocation. Kate achieves this dream - the desire to be a child always, and it is as she, where others had not been so fortunate, had managed to wish hard enough to allow childhood to surrounded her so completely that she could not be touched by the exterior world. Kate becomes a child forever, as the title suggests, she exists as much, or more, as a ‘child in time’ as an actual person, living and growing. To Stephen she will always be the child she was when he last saw her, and her only growth can be achieved by superimposing on her personality a stereotyped caricature of what a child her age would be - a child hoping for a walkie-talkie set for her birthday - without her own eccentricities, or personal characteristics.
When Stephen tries to recapture Kate, in the scene in the primary school, he too is overwhelmed by childhood. Without thinking he is drawn into a lesson and becomes a stereotyped student until he is able to break out of this strange reality and return to his task at hand. He finds that the child that he had mistaken for Kate could not be her, almost as if childhood had created an elaborate web, including doppelgangers to put him off the trail, in order to protect Kate, and sustain her youth.
When Stephen writes, too, he succumbs to childhood. In attempting to write his first book about exotic escapades, sex and drugs, he loses his control, and writes ‘Lemonade’ about his childhood. It then turns out that this is the right path to take, and ‘Lemonade’ is published as the first of many children’s books that Stephen writes. The result of this surrender to childhood is, however, more sinister than he had imagined. It becomes clear that a large degree of Charles’ love of Stephen’s books is due to their being about, and for, children. Charles’ ‘madness’ ensues, and he becomes a warped version of Peter Pan, having grown old, but in refusing to accept age, returning to his youth. Childhood once more overcomes the natural order of things, and reclaims Charles. Again in the scene outside the pub, Childhood is able to defy all natural laws and take his back to the moment when his life was decided upon, and accepted. Indeed, Childhood is able to drag Stephen back to...