Eng 313 Tu, Thu. 11:00am
If time determined love, and love determined time, would it be possible for love to last forever? In Audrey Niffenegger’s debut novel The Time Traveler’s Wife, published in 2003, the interrelatedness of both time and love is deeply and articulately addressed, as she fuses the grounds of science fiction and romance. The ideas of love, loss, and free will are the themes rooted in the novel as the main characters Henry DeTamble and Clare Abshire undergo episodes of “timeless” love that has no boundaries, and leaves these two lovers to rely on their unconditional love for one another. Within the context of my paper, I will discuss the story line and it’s take on the subject of a love connected through time. The radical aspect of the novel encompasses the relationship that is seemingly fiction when compared to modern day couples connected by other meaningless desirous incentives other than love. Clare Abshire, a very patient damsel living out a troubled life who is married to a husband who’s genetic disease allows him to time travel, and subsequently hindering the outcome for a stable relationship to blossom between her and her unpredictable lover. This is definitely not your typical love story. Whatever happened to the boy meets girl, boy loses girl, boy gets girl back storyline observable in almost every traditional Romantic movie? That is exactly what makes this novel radically exhilarating, with an unconventional twist. What is more radical than having a husband that time travels and trying to keep a stable relationship with a man that literally vanishes from your life in unpredictable patterns and comes back randomly?
The book focuses mostly on themes dealing with love, loss, freewill, marriage, and time. The two characters Henry and Clare, break a distance stereotype or assumption that implies distance is a problematic factor in relationships. It is nonetheless a victory of love over time and their ability to stay united and loyal to one another even during the worst of circumstances. As impossible as that may sound, through all the hardships and pains the two protagonists of the story endure, they still have the deepest emotional attachments to one another, something rarely accomplished in modern day society. The divorce rate in America is higher than 50% (marriage101.org) , which is astoundingly high when the mediocre reasons for marital separation cannot compare to the fictional consequence of time traveling added into a relationship. This raises the question of what's the implausible occurrence that provokes the need to disagree among American married couples. Are people more infatuated than they are in love in contemporary America, or are they influenced by other derogatory personal desires that shadows the importance of love? How can Henry and Clare keep their marriage going for so long even with Henry’s genetic disorder to time travel? How can their love stay strong and endure that type of distance away from each other? What keeps Henry and Clare united is the fact that they have known each other most of their lives, like childhood friends. They are connected through the past, present, and future, which is essentially the way their love fabricates into something more than friendship and subsequently end up knowing everything about one another. When modern couples meet or date, they are meeting for the first time, making it difficult to realize what that person is truly like. Their flaws stay inconspicuous in the beginning of a relationship and thus they make opinionated first impressions. Henry tells Clare, “That’s what I love you for: your inability to perceive my hideous flaws.” In his perspective he believes Clare is blind to his flaws, but perhaps it’s that she loves him regardless of those flaws. This is an unconventional love with an unconventional ending even though they do end up staying together like most sex comedy movie genres that end with a happy ending (McDonald, pg.38). But The Time Traveler’s Wife explores life after marriage unlike the sex comedies of the mid century. They have problems conceiving a child, and Clare has to live with a disabled husband after he suffers hypothermia and both his feet are amputated. The radical part of the story is, that regardless of everything they go through, they stay together when any other modern couple would probably end up in divorce. After Henry’s death Clare never finds another partner because she knows she will never find another Henry. He’s the only man she ever loved.
I am able to connect with the character of Clare due to my own personal experiences with love, that are exemplified in the books reflection on a typical relationship that evolves around waiting for your partner in extreme conditions. As a Salvadorean, my family traditions and values are highly taken into consideration and thus leaves my family to depict what you could call a conservative kind of lifestyle. I eventually went outside of my “comfort zone” to break this cultural barrier by finding love with someone outside my own ethnic class. To my father this was considered an unfavorable situation to name the least. In light of this, my adventure with a new type of love began to venture on the reality of a rocky unstable path. My partner had recently moved from Jamaica, and so the introduction to racism was very new and impacting on him. His mindset had changed after I told him about the reality of our situation and the hardships we may face; like, my fathers inability to accept someone with dark skin. Thus began my period of waiting that manifested because my partner found it difficult to function normally and openly with me, as he let the views and thoughts of people determine his love for me. He was not able to give me the full and complete love that I was yearning for, so I went through a very long time of back and forth comings and goings, with disappointments that led me to wonder why I was waiting on him to begin with. He was basically an almost mirrored version of Henry who kept leaving me, yet always coming back to me. I was patient like Clare, always waiting and waiting yet never giving up. Subsequently my partner and I were slightly similar images of the novel as we faced the problems of love with a barrier, loss without truly being lost and free will without being able to let go. The infection of love is a glorious yet impalpable feeling to have. On the first day of my Eng 313 class, Professor Wexler wanted us to give our own definition of love, so I wrote that love was a wonderful feeling, almost in ecstasy where all your senses are lost; you can't eat, sleep or listen to anyone but your heart. I'm almost sure that's how Clare felt for Henry, almost like they were just one person at times. Through time, the love that Clare and Henry felt grew so strong, almost nothing else mattered beside their love. Progressively, that's how my own love grew to a strong and powerful hold like the one Clare and Henry shared. Like Shakespeare wrote in the Merchant of Venice, “love is blind, and lovers cannot see”, a very true signifier of the effects of love on people. I myself feel this very way, blinded by my own ecstasy. Although I previously compared myself to Clare and Henry, I know very well that's impossible, although I would like that not to be the case. The love Clare and Henry shared was a different, more radical and uncommon type of love, one incomparable to anyone or any other couple I have read about or watched in any movie.
The Time Traveler's Wife does not deal with any political, racial, class or even gender issues so it’s difficult to try and connect it to other readings or movies that have been viewed during Eng 313 of my Fall semester. The main theme or topics focused in the book is love and time, a love incomparable to many works of literature due to the science fiction of time travel. It may not be as radical as Romeo and Juliet killing themselves for love, but the love that Henry and Clare share is timeless, even after his death. Clare tells her friend Gomez “I can reach into [Henry] and touch time...he loves me.” Due to Henry's tangible love for Clare, she finds the concept of time to be just as tangible to her, like she’s living the past and future in the present with the man she loves. Time and waiting are always an issue in the book as Clare says herself, “Its hard being left behind. I wait for Henry, not knowing where he is, wondering if he’s okay. it’s hard to be the one who stays.” There is a strong motif dealing with the hardship of distance and waiting for the one you love to come back. In the movie “Dear John” waiting is also the impacting issue, where the heart-felt female protagonist has to wait for her love-interest John for years to come back while he’s at war, but the plot thickens as the female love interest leaves John for another man . She couldn’t deal with the pain of waiting, watching time pass every day, every hour, every minute. It was too painful for her to stay and endure the anxiety of waiting. Clare, on the other hand had the willpower to endure, through better or for worse she endured. This book is true love at its most passionate and problematic point, unlike most Romantic movies in the past and present. That is what makes this novel exceptional and different. The theme of love, and human emotion is portrayed in a deep, passionate and emotional level.
What if the deep passion and powerful love felt inside your heart was hindered by the absence of choice? That's the struggle Henry DeTamble had to live with everyday of his life, including during his married life with Clare. Unlike the average citizen in America, Henry didn't have the privilege of free will that many people take for granted. The undesired ability to come and go at random periods of time has no lustrous appeal, because the only thing Henry wants is to stay with Clare. Since Henry doesn't have the free will to travel where he wants to be, ending up in very dangerous situations making him terrified and vulnerable, which makes him react as a criminal, thief, and barbarian without ethics just mere survival in his mind. No matter how much he wants to make time stand still, he knows he doesn't have any control over his genetic disorder. Clare asks Henry, "If you could stop now… if you could not time travel any more, and there would be no consequences, would you?" Without any doubt or hesitation, Henry says “yes” to her question because he knows time traveling has no exciting allure to him since he met his true love. What's most important to him now is to stay with Clare in the present, but he knows he cannot. He's a tragic figure like Benjamin Button from The Curious Case of Benjamin Button who also suffers a genetic disorder. Benjamin is able to better cope with his disorder of aging backwards but he doesn't get the girl in the end because she can't accept him the way he is, even though she always loved him she couldn't endure the estranged difference. Love, loss, and freewill are reoccurring themes in the Time Traveler's Wife, making the novel a radical experience with romance and tragedy. Some characters actually have the option to choose what path to take like Benjamin Braddock from The Graduate, where he is seduced by an older woman but chooses out of his own free will to fall into her seduction and have an affair, acknowledging the fact that she was a married woman. He did it anyways knowing it was wrong, but that is the power of free will. You have the power to choose your path in life, while on the other hand Henry had no such control over his path in life. It's a tragic tale with a very radical sequence of events, making the paths of Clare and Henry unpredictable.
This tale of love versus time that Clare and Henry face is a consequently tragic romance in the end, unlike most neo-traditional romantic comedy films that end with a happy note, usually with a reconciliation and “ever-lasting” love like Kate and Leopold, Hitch, You've got Mail, The Wedding Planner, or How to Lose a Guy in Ten Days. After Henry's death a reconciliation with Clare was impossible due to the reality of mortality. After death, Henry is still able to travel his life time-line, going back in time to re-live memories with Clare while at the same time re-opening wounds of a harsher reality; not being able to see his daughter grow up in the future or grow old with Clare. Clare's burden is just as great, losing a husband and father to her daughter, having to live the rest of her life alone without the man she fell in love with. Tragedy, death and loss are not very common themes in the neo-traditional way of portraying romance in modern society. This subsequently dominant and relentless form of the romantic comedy genre adopts a very conservative and traditional format/ storyline and a usually unrealistic happy ending. This dominant form of the genre emphasizes the same outline over and over, staying with the formidable sequence of “boy meets girl, boy loses girl, boy gets girl back”. The sequence of The Time Traveler's Wife takes a different route, more in the realms of “girl meets boy, girl waits for boy, boy forgets girl, boy marries girl, boy dies”. There have been other deaths in Romance literature besides The Time Traveler's Wife like Romeo and Juliet and Withering Heights, but never transparent or rarely executed in modern Romance movies. An exception to this modern reoccurring idea is in the film The Notebook that takes a daring leap to extract itself and deny conformity by adding the tragic realities of life after marriage, and inevitable mortality of all human kind. Allie and Noah from The Notebook suffer many problems including Allie's unstable dementia where she forgets who her husband Noah is, and the tragedy of the situation is worsened by the couples death together. They die quietly in their sleep while holding hands, making this film tragic in essence, yet not as eloquent as the mutilation and death in The Time Traveler's Wife. Death is always going to be tragic, which incorporates the importance of tears in such a story. Crying is important in a tragedy, which is exactly what makes this non-traditional story line radical, portraying the harsh reality of real life. Not everything can be like a fairytale; a “happily ever after” is a mere myth that is only strengthened by the reassurance of prevailing dominance of the neo-traditional Romance.
The Time Traveler's Wife is radical because it doesn’t have a preconceived “happily ever after” type of ending most people expect from romantic books or movies, but the test of Clare and Henry's love in a real life-like contemporary environment with real and profound problems, dilemmas and hardships that never diminished the love they felt for one another. Their love stood the test of time, through good and bad, something rarely accomplished in present reality. All couples, married or unmarried have many issues to deal with, being their own problems or with their significant other. No two partners in a relationship acquire the exact same characteristics as the other because all human kind is different from one another somehow. We are all driven by either our own internal thoughts, the environmental and societal influences that impact our life perceptions or the people we cherish the closest to our heart. We do not share the same ideas, thoughts, reactions, language, or interactions as other people. If all people were the same there would be no such thing as arguments, hate or disagreements, but unfortunately people were not built in that manner. For people, better yet, for couples it's a lot easier to make the decision to leave a relationship, rather than to endure the hardship of staying and working it out. The love that Clare and Henry felt seemed real and true, a genuinely radical sensation . They were never perfect and could never be perfect, but the love they had was the only sure thing in their lives.
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Niffenegger, Audrey. The Time Traveler’s Wife. San Francisco, CA: McAdam/Cage, 2003.
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The Graduate. Dir. Mike Nichols. Prod. Lawrence Turman, Richard Sylbert, George R. Nelson, Harry Maret, Sherry Wilson, Patricia Zipprodt, and Sydney Guilaroff. By Calder Willingham, Buck Henry, Robert Surtees, Sam O'Steen, Jack Solomon, Paul Simon, and Dave Grusin. Perf. Buck Henry, Anne Bancroft, Dustin Hoffman, Katherine Ross, William Daniels, Murray Hamilton, Brian Avery, Norman Fell, Alice Ghostley, and Marion Lorne. An Embassy Pictures Release, 1967. DVD.
The Curios Case of Benjamin Button. Dir. David Fincher. Perf. Brad Pitt and Cate Blanchett. Paramount Pictures, 2008. DVD.