The Wanderer

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The Passage of Time Theme Analysis

Themes and Colors
The Passage of Time  Theme Icon
Men and Women Theme Icon
Dreaming vs. The Real World Theme Icon
Family and Personal Identity Theme Icon
The Mysteries of Life and Death Theme Icon
LitCharts assigns a color and icon to each theme in The Wanderer, which you can use to track the themes throughout the work.
The Passage of Time  Theme Icon

The Wanderer makes its readers think about what “time” really is—if it exists “out there” in the world, or if it’s just something we make up in our heads. For example, when the crew has docked at Block Island soon after setting sail from Connecticut, Sophie says that, even though she’s on land again, the world around her already feels more fluid. She wants to get out into the open ocean soon, though—for out in the ocean, she says, all time is connected.

The open ocean therefore represents, for Sophie, a place where our normal ideas of time become undone. Everything out there seems interconnected, whereas in our everyday lives on land, things seem divided: moments follow one after the other, and it doesn’t feel as if the world is one, whole, undivided place. Later in the trip, as the crew sets sail for Nova Scotia before heading directly to England, Sophie begins to question the ways we normally think about time. She starts to feel as if the words “yesterday,” “today,” and “tomorrow” don’t really mean anything—as if they’re all talking about the same time. She even asks “what is tomorrow?” and says that time must all be “now, one huge big present thing.” In this way, The Wanderer questions the concept of time by making us think about its passage not in the sense of past-to-present-to-future, but rather as a never-ending, all-encompassing present.

Then, as the crew sails towards England, they pass through several time zones; consequently, they must shift their clocks forwards an hour for each time zone they cross, and Cody says he wonders where the hours they lose “go.” Because we have to shift our watches forwards or backwards between time zones, but still feel the same way we did in the previous zone, it seems like time is something we humans make up. Our bodies—which are in a biological rhythm with the external world—don’t gain or lose energy when we change our clocks forwards or backwards, when we manually change what time it is. The idea that the outer world itself passes from past to future—that the outer world is connected with our way of organizing time—therefore just seems to be something invented by our minds, when truly time is just a huge present we can’t entirely fathom.

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The Passage of Time ThemeTracker

The ThemeTracker below shows where, and to what degree, the theme of The Passage of Time appears in each Chapter of The Wanderer. Click or tap on any chapter to read its Summary & Analysis.
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The Passage of Time Quotes in The Wanderer

Below you will find the important quotes in The Wanderer related to the theme of The Passage of Time .
II. Shakedown Quotes

We are barely under way with our journey, and already everything seems more fluid and relaxed. . . . I’m ready to get out on the open ocean, though. I want to be moving, to be sailing, where it doesn’t matter if it’s day or night, where time is all connected.

Related Characters: Sophie (speaker)
Related Symbols: The Open Ocean
Page Number: 27-28
Explanation and Analysis:

Sophie writes this while she and the rest of the crew are docked on Block Island. Though she excitedly awaits getting back out onto the open ocean to experience its vastness and interconnectedness, Sophie already feels that her brief time on the water so far has affected her view of the world. The environment around her already feels more fluid and interconnected—not divided into ordered moments or events—which resembles her ideas of how life far out at sea might be. Thinking of the ocean as a place where all time is connected—where all of time is just one giant, eternal moment—Sophie clearly wants to escape the ordinary way of thinking which she associates with living on land.

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Out here, there isn’t day and night and then a new day. Instead, there are degrees of light and dark, merging and changing. It’s like one long stream of time unfolding in front of you, all around you. There isn’t really a yesterday or a day before, which is weird, because then what is tomorrow? And what is last week or last year? And if there is no yesterday or last year—or ten years ago—then it must all be now, one huge big present thing.

Related Characters: Sophie (speaker)
Related Symbols: The Open Ocean
Page Number: 46-47
Explanation and Analysis:

Finally out on the open ocean, sailing on to Gran Manan from Martha’s Vineyard, what Sophie anticipated about the ocean—that out on it, all of time is connected—is coming true, and affecting her sense of passing time and life itself. Faced with a vast body of water expanding out onto a seemingly endless horizon, the sense of past-to-present-to-future is eroding for Sophie. The word “day” seems meaningless, as if the vastness Sophie is experiencing cannot possibly be measured by our conventional, rigid ways of ordering time. If the days can all blur together like this, and the word “tomorrow” is just a concept that humans make up in their minds, then, Sophie thinks, time must really just be “one huge big present thing.”

V. Wind and Waves Quotes

It seems a hundred years ago that we were lobstering and clamming on Grand Manan and trekking around Wood Island, and it seems a hundred years ago that we were eager to get under way, oblivious to what lay in wait for us. I feel as if I have to start to love sailing again, because I don’t love it now. I just want to get to Bompie and forget about the ocean for a while.

Related Characters: Sophie (speaker), Bompie
Related Symbols: The Wave, The Open Ocean
Page Number: 200
Explanation and Analysis:

In the aftermath of the violent Wave, Sophie writes this journal entry as the crew begins to escape the nearly-fatal storm and regain control of The Wanderer’s course towards England.

The time-warping effects of the ocean on Sophie’s mind resurface here. Already having lost her normal sense of time by being out on the open ocean for so long, the traumatic storm she went through must have absorbed all of her attention. Causing her to think about only survival and the possibility of her death—about the present and the future, not the past—the storm must have halted all of Sophie’s thoughts about the past, which were already hazy enough because they were lumped into “one big huge present” of time. The storm has then disconnected Sophie from a sense of the past even more than the ocean already had.

Regaining a sense of control over the waters and refocusing her thoughts on getting to Bompie—and therefore putting the wave behind her, into the past—the time Sophie spent on Gran Manan now indeed seem like it was an unbelievable amount of time ago, separated from the wave’s attack by a rift of one hundred years.

Further, it is hard for Sophie to enjoy and feel confident about sailing again after being nearly killed by the storm. But Sophie and the crew must push on, and reacquire their sense of composure if they are to successfully make it to Bompie.

There's a little kid. And the little kid doesn't know what is going on. The little kid is just cold or hungry or scared and wants Mommy and Daddy. And when other people tell the little kid that Mommy and Daddy have gone to heaven . . . the little kid feels bad and wonders why they didn't take their little kid with them . . .
And everywhere the little kid goes, people ask what the little kid remembers about the grown-ups, who have gone away to the beautiful place, but the little kid doesn’t want to remember that painful thing. . . . The little kid wants to be right here, right now . . . not back at those times the little kid got left behind.
But no matter what the little kid might want, something inside pushes the little kid ahead while something or someone pulls the little kid back.

Related Characters: Sophie (speaker), Cody
Related Symbols: The Little Kid
Page Number: 204
Explanation and Analysis:

Cody writes this in the aftermath of the nearly-fatal storm, as The Wanderer regains control of its course towards England. He’s recording the response Sophie gave when he asked her if she “remembered things from when she was little.”

Unsurprisingly (by this point in the book), Sophie, being asked about her past by Cody, starts talking about the little kid instead. The little kid, a fictional character onto which Sophie projects the truth of her own past in order to disconnect herself from it, wants so very much to be able to live in the present. Having gone through a very painful past of losing their parents, and then being, as we learn later on, chucked from place to place—from their grandpa’s (who died), to their aunt’s (who didn’t want the little kid), and then from foster home to foster home—the little kid has felt rejected and unwanted. The little kid even felt rejected by their own parents, wondering why they wouldn’t take their child to heaven with them. In order to get on with life and live happily, the little kid just wants to be able to look ahead, and not backwards at the pain of the past.

The “push-pull” dynamic at the core of Sophie’s psyche shines through here. Sophie (the little kid) feels pushed by her painful past into a better future, where she can live a happy, fulfilling life where she feels valued. Yet, at the same time, she feels pulled back by her painful past, for she can’t totally erase it, even though she tries.

In trying to get totally beyond her past by wholly forgetting it, Sophie, or the little kid, gets caught-up in this back-and-forth of being pushed and pulled. Perhaps if Sophie would try to reconcile herself with the past by remembering it and coming to terms with it—by recognizing the good parts about it—she could achieve a steadier state of mind. Cody, at the end of the book, tries to help her recognize this.

Last night, Cody and I got into this very serious talk about Life. We wondered if maybe people never die, but simply live on and on, leaving other planes behind. When you come near death, you die on one plane—so to everyone you are with, you are dead, but you—the you in you—doesn’t stop existing. Instead, you keep living the same as always and it just seems as if you’ve had a close call. We wondered if maybe we’re not each just one person, but many people existing on millions of different planes, like a line that branches off and branches again and on it goes, but it always has one central trunk.

Related Characters: Sophie (speaker), Cody
Related Symbols: The Open Ocean
Page Number: 210
Explanation and Analysis:

Having endured the violent wave and passed through the storm, Sophie writes about a conversation she had with Cody regarding, rather appropriately, life and death.

Since they both were the most injured by the wave—the most brutally swept up in its overwhelming force—Sophie and Cody have probably come the closest to death among the crew. Having had near-death encounters, their minds must subsequently be fixated on the fact that they saw their lives vanish before them, only to be saved because they both had their safety harnesses on at the time.

Their question about death—about whether one ever really experiences death, or rather just keeps being reborn on different “planes”—is therefore fitting. Did they actually die when the wave struck? Have they been reborn? While they do not give the question an ultimate answer, the fact that they’re raising it shows that the ocean has deeply changed them. They’re asking questions about the fundamental nature of life, of existence—they’re thinking about life in a way they never have before. Had they stayed on land and never ventured out onto the open ocean, it’s not likely they would be wondering if, in a single human lifetime, there are actually millions of different life-branches.

What I wonder is this: how come you don’t notice the time going by, and you don’t think you are changing in any way, but then all of a sudden you realize that what you are thinking today is different from what you thought yesterday and that you are different from what you were yesterday—or last week—or last month?

Related Characters: Cody (speaker)
Page Number: 211
Explanation and Analysis:

In another interesting philosophical moment in the book, Cody raises this question as he’s recovering from his encounter with the almost deadly Wave. The violent storm has changed Cody, as well as his dad (Mo). Having faced death, Cody’s way of perceiving the world is different—and this includes his perception of his father. He now sees his father in a totally different light, as if he’s a stranger with a history that Cody is totally ignorant of. Mo has also changed—he realizes how poor of a father he’s been to Cody.

It’s therefore fitting that Cody raises this question about the nature of change. Why don’t we notice that we’re changing as we’re doing it? Why do we only have knowledge of our changes after they’ve run their course on us—after the fact that we’ve changed? Though Cody never gives an answer, it’s remarkable that he’s even asking the question. Cody, as we knew him in the beginning of the novel, is not someone who lives a “life of the mind”—he doesn’t typically ask questions like this. But now, his life having been altered by an encounter with death, Cody is thinking more about his life as a whole. The wave has changed his outlook on life.