We've got to give Childhood's End credit: It sure doesn't take the easy road here. Too many novels approach this theme like it's a Hallmark Card, and their answers to these grand mysteries are so simple they might as well rhyme with "Roses are red; violets are blue…" But Childhood's End doesn't provide simple answers. In fact, it is hard to say the novel provides any solid answers at all.
The novel suggests that evolution is the great mover of life, but it doesn't say where it is moving us (other than to morph into some enigmatic alien being). It says that art is an essential part of human existence, but it can't put its finger on why. Like good science, great philosophy, and the ending of the Sopranos, the answers only raise more questions.
Questions About Life, Consciousness, and Existence
The big one: If you had to sum up the novel's message on life and existence, what would you say it is? For a real challenge, try to do it in a sentence or two.
How do the existences of the Overlords and mankind differ? What does this tell you about this theme?
Take another look at Jeff's dream sequence in Chapter 18. How do these dreams tie into the theme of life and existence?
What aspects of the Athens colony make it seem so well put together for human existence? Are there any parts that seem counterproductive to our style of life? Wrapping these answers together, what does this say about the theme?
Chew on This
The museum on the Overlords' home world doesn't just show the technology and scientific endeavors of all human civilizations, it shows what the Overlords value above all else.
Athens expresses the exact opposite view of life as the Overlord museum: It puts its value on life in the artistic realm.