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Charles Darke is a character of huge importance in the novel because he embodies so many of the novels themes and is key to Stephen’s recovery after his loss of Kate and future journey. Events involving Charles Darke are not only significant to the plot but also teach the reader a lot about the movement of time and the confusion and issues surrounding childhood.
The readers introduction to Darke shows him as a successful man in his publishing firm who has managed to acquire respect and power (“New York and Frankfurt were on the line”) however as the introduction continues the reader begins to see that under the surface he has a more childish side to him as he relishes receiving attention: “making expansive remarks to a young writer was one of the more desirable perquisites to his profession”. Even before his breakdown his youthful nature is evident for example choosing his political career is described as a “parlour game”.
Darke is one of the characters that McEwan uses to present the major theme of childhood and adulthood, there is a constant conflict present within Darke of being a child and of being an adult. His successful political career shows that he must have debating skill and great intellect however at the same time his juvenile personality also breaks through. Having acted as a parental figure after the loss of Kate it is tragic that he should regress so rapidly away from reality.
It is not only Darke’s contrasting personality which warns the reader of what may occur later, he is obviously unsettled as shown by his rapid career moves and house move from Eaton Square to the countryside. Thelma also describes to Stephen how he lost his mother and had a cold upbringing with his father suggesting that Darke did not experience childhood at all. Charles Darke also jumped straight into being a successful and married businessman therefore missing out on important lessons that many adults learn through their mistakes.
Just before the reader is introduced to Darke there is even a subtle echo of what will happen later as Stephen describes a picture: “a grim-faced crow with a stethoscope round its neck taking the pulse of a pale young boy who appeared to have fallen out of a tree”. Darke shows the reader a disquieting reaction to time because instead of moving forwards he moves backwards, the reader sees personal and sometimes eerie moments involving Darke, these help McEwan to show the reader what a precious state childhood is and how time cannot be manipulated.
Darke also embodies the theme of politics. Not only does he move the political plot forward by getting Stephen onto the committee but he is also the reason that Stephen meets the Prime Minister. The novel was written during the Thatcherite era of the 80’s and this is clearly reflected in the tone of the book and McEwan’s opposition to this right-wing rule. Stephen Lewis is cynical about the Conservative views that Darke has decided to take on and the short, abrupt syntax that McEwan uses emphasizes his suspicions of the government in power. It is a cruel irony that, like the Beggar Girl, Charles’ eventual death is a result of his political career and the harsh culture surrounding him.
Different opinions can be taken on what Darke’s specific role is within the novel. He clearly is important for McEwan to carve in the political aspect of the novel and McEwan’s own political views however his regression back into childhood carries a much more complicated message. The title of the book “The Child in Time” at first may seem to describe simply Stephen’s loss of Kate however one can go much deeper and find that perhaps what McEwan is trying to show the reader is Stephen and Darke’s search for their own child in time.
While Stephen searches constantly for the physical Kate he also looks for her in time through memories and visions of her growing up. Darke’s search for the child in time is different, he has had no childhood of his own so he searches for it and eventually finds it by regressing into boyhood. On the surface McEwan presents this as a natural step but it is actually quite disturbing and this is shown by the smile on his face at death. The conflicts within Darke show the reader the bitter sweet nature of childhood, while Darke is happy and carefree he also believes himself invincible and this eventually causes his death.
Charles Darke is also important for the reader’s understanding of Stephen Lewis. It is because of Darke that Stephen meets Thelma who is important as she looks after both of the characters and gives the reader another way to look at time. The reason that Thelma chooses Stephen as the one person who she allows to see Charles after his breakdown is because she knows that he will not judge or condemn and it is important for the reader to know this feature of his character. Stephen has experienced loss and thought endlessly about childhood and is therefore understanding about Darke’s regression. The reader also learns about Stephen through the contrast of the characters. Darke becomes part of the right wing government while Stephen is saddened by the two “tribes” in the Supermarket.
Stephen sees Charles Darke’s death first hand and this may help him reach an understanding about his loss of Kate because he has to come face to face with the reality that she too maybe dead. The fact that Darke dies with a smile on his face may remind Stephen that if Kate is dead then she has at least died in a happy part of her life and has not yet lost her innocence. Darke’s relationship with Thelma can also be contrasted with Stephen’s relationship with Julie. As the novel progresses Thelma becomes more and more of a mother figure to Darke and her older age implies that it has never been a marriage of passion and deep love but one of a mutual understanding, acceptance and care. In contrast to Darke’s seemingly sexless marriage Julie and Stephen have a much more real and natural relationship where there high points and low points are kept private and by the end their genuine love for one another is clear.
Darke offers McEwan the means to show the reader his themes of time, childhood and politics but he also has deeper significance. Darke shows the reader how childhood, or the lack of it, effects ones whole life and how reaching adulthood is a continuous process that may never end. The search for “The Child in Time” by Darke is an emotional and metaphorical journey that eventually liberates him from the stresses and pressures of his hectic work life even if it does ultimately cause his death.