The Phantom Tollbooth

The Phantom Tollbooth

by

Norton Juster

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Time/Tock’s Alarm Clock Symbol Analysis

Time/Tock’s Alarm Clock Symbol Icon

The way that the novel frames the concept of time and the character Tock (whose body is an alarm clock) shows that time is extremely valuable, but is often taken for granted anyway. When readers first meet Milo, he constantly wastes time rushing through his day without paying attention or finding joy in anything. Indeed, when he receives the mysterious package that contains the tollbooth, the accompanying letter is addressed to Milo, “who has plenty of time.” This establishes from the beginning that time is something valuable, even if Milo hasn’t quite put it together yet. As Milo meets and gets to know Tock, Tock then makes it very clear just how important time is. Tock insists outright that time is the most valuable thing that people have—and yet, so many people waste it.

The novel shows how consistently people take time for granted in one of its central conflicts. King Azaz and the Mathemagician spend all their time arguing about whether words or numbers are more important. But as they argue, Tock and his clock tick away, and occasionally his alarm goes off—time, the novel proposes, is actually far more important than either numbers or words, but it’s not something that people think to even argue about. So while Tock himself and the novel on the whole propose that time is arguably a person’s most valuable possession, the way the novel’s conflicts are framed shows just how easy it is to overlook the importance of time in favor of other things.

Time/Tock’s Alarm Clock Quotes in The Phantom Tollbooth

The The Phantom Tollbooth quotes below all refer to the symbol of Time/Tock’s Alarm Clock. For each quote, you can also see the other characters and themes related to it (each theme is indicated by its own dot and icon, like this one:
Knowledge, Learning, and the Purpose of Education Theme Icon
). Note: all page numbers and citation info for the quotes below refer to the Bullseye Books edition of The Phantom Tollbooth published in 1988.
Chapter 3. Welcome to Dictionopolis Quotes

“When they began to count all the time that was available, (…) it seemed as if there was much more than could ever be used. ‘If there’s so much of it, it couldn’t be very valuable,’ was the general opinion, and it soon fell into disrepute. People wasted it and even gave it away. Then we were given the job of seeing that no one wasted time again,” he said, sitting up proudly. “It’s hard work but a noble calling. For you see”—and now he was standing on the seat, one foot on the windshield, shouting with his arms outstretched—“it is our most valuable possession, more precious than diamonds. It marches on, and tide wait for no man, and—”

Related Characters: Tock (speaker), Milo, King Azaz the Unabridged, The Mathemagician
Related Symbols: Time/Tock’s Alarm Clock
Page Number: 34
Explanation and Analysis:
Chapter 17. Unwelcoming Committee Quotes

“But why do only unimportant things?” asked Milo, who suddenly remembered how much time he spent each day doing them.

“Think of all the trouble it saves,” the man explained, and his face looked as if he’d be grinning an evil grin—if he could grin at all. “If you only do the easy and useless jobs, you’ll never have to worry about the important ones which are so difficult. You just won’t have the time. For there’s always something to do to keep you from what you should really be doing, and if it weren’t for that dreadful magic staff, you’d never know how much time you were wasting.”

Related Characters: Milo (speaker), Terrible Trivium (speaker), Tock, The Humbug, The Mathemagician
Related Symbols: Gifts, Time/Tock’s Alarm Clock
Page Number: 213
Explanation and Analysis:
Chapter 18. Castle in the Air Quotes

“But what about the Castle in the Air?” the bug objected, not very pleased with the arrangement.

“Let it drift away,” said Rhyme.

“And good riddance,” added Reason, for no matter how beautiful it seems, it’s still nothing but a prison.”

Page Number: 236
Explanation and Analysis:
Get the entire The Phantom Tollbooth LitChart as a printable PDF.
The Phantom Tollbooth PDF

Time/Tock’s Alarm Clock Symbol Timeline in The Phantom Tollbooth

The timeline below shows where the symbol Time/Tock’s Alarm Clock appears in The Phantom Tollbooth. The colored dots and icons indicate which themes are associated with that appearance.
Chapter 2. Beyond Expectations
Language, Wordplay, Fun, and Logic Theme Icon
Boredom, Beauty, and Modern Life Theme Icon
Absurdity vs. Reason Theme Icon
...a stop in front of him. The dog looks normal—except his body is a ticking alarm clock. The dog asks Milo what he’s doing here and howls with rage when Milo... (full context)
Chapter 3. Welcome to Dictionopolis
Boredom, Beauty, and Modern Life Theme Icon
...became a watchdog. Tock says it’s tradition in his family. There used to be no time at all, which made things very inconvenient—nobody could catch their trains or know if they... (full context)
Chapter 4. Confusion in the Market Place
Knowledge, Learning, and the Purpose of Education Theme Icon
Language, Wordplay, Fun, and Logic Theme Icon
Boredom, Beauty, and Modern Life Theme Icon
...Humbug trips and crashes into a stall. Everything in the market falls down as Tock’s alarm rings. (full context)
Chapter 5. Short Shrift
Language, Wordplay, Fun, and Logic Theme Icon
Absurdity vs. Reason Theme Icon
...he’s shouting at people that they’re guilty. Officer Shrift scolds Tock to turn off his alarm and then asks who’s responsible for the mayhem. He says the Humbug looks suspicious. As... (full context)
Chapter 9. It’s All in How You Look at Things
Knowledge, Learning, and the Purpose of Education Theme Icon
Language, Wordplay, Fun, and Logic Theme Icon
...what Milo had for breakfast. He tells Tock that Tock is worried about people wasting time, and he tells the Humbug that the Humbug is almost never right—if he’s right, it's... (full context)
Chapter 12. The Silent Valley
Language, Wordplay, Fun, and Logic Theme Icon
Absurdity vs. Reason Theme Icon
...changes. Milo opens his mouth to ask what happened—but no sound comes out. Now, Tock’s clock isn’t ticking and the Humbug isn’t singing. There’s no sound anywhere. The Humbug panics as... (full context)
Chapter 17. Unwelcoming Committee
Knowledge, Learning, and the Purpose of Education Theme Icon
Absurdity vs. Reason Theme Icon
...this doesn’t seem worthwhile or important. The man says that’s the point, just as Tock’s alarm starts to ring. Tock asks why they should bother, and the man says that it’s... (full context)
Knowledge, Learning, and the Purpose of Education Theme Icon
Boredom, Beauty, and Modern Life Theme Icon
...but Milo asks why people should only do unimportant things. (He now realizes how much time he spends doing unimportant things.) The Terrible Trivium insists it saves time and means you... (full context)
Chapter 18. Castle in the Air
Knowledge, Learning, and the Purpose of Education Theme Icon
Language, Wordplay, Fun, and Logic Theme Icon
Absurdity vs. Reason Theme Icon
...demons are cutting the stairway loose, and the princesses suggest they leave. Milo notes that time flies and Tock offers to carry everyone down. Rhyme and Reason climb onto Tock’s back,... (full context)
Chapter 20. Good-by and Hello
Knowledge, Learning, and the Purpose of Education Theme Icon
Language, Wordplay, Fun, and Logic Theme Icon
Boredom, Beauty, and Modern Life Theme Icon
...hour, and Milo had no idea he could get so much done in a short time. He’s exhausted, so he goes to bed right after dinner. (full context)
Knowledge, Learning, and the Purpose of Education Theme Icon
Boredom, Beauty, and Modern Life Theme Icon
...Milo rushes around his room, ready to try something new. He decides he doesn’t have time to make another trip with so much to do here. (full context)