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.
The Passage of Time ThemeTracker
The Passage of Time Quotes in The Wanderer
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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?