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Soulmates and Free Will: A Debate About The Time-Traveler’s Wife

Written by: The CinCitizens

CC2K Books Editor Beth Woodward and Co-Editor Tony Lazlo explore the doctrines and contradictions of Niffenegger’s best-selling novel. 

Beth Woodward will get us started:

I’m a sucker for two things: science fiction and love stories. As such, Audrey Niffenegger’s The Time Traveler’s Wife, which combines the two, naturally attracted my attention. The story of Clare and Henry weaves in and out of time, as Henry has a rare genetic disorder that causes him to randomly travel through time. Clare, on the other hand, experiences things chronologically.

The Time Traveler’s Wife adheres to the “whatever happened, happened,” theory of time travel. When Henry travels backward in time, he cannot change anything; when he attempts to do so, he often inadvertently causes the very event he was trying to prevent. There’s something futile about Henry’s existence: he knows too much about his own future, and he must re-live his own past without being able to change it. His very existence negates the idea of free will. So when you live in a world where everything is predestined, where you never have any choice, what do you live for?

Niffenegger answers this question by giving us the relationship between Henry and Clare. The Time Traveler’s Wife is, at its heart, a love story, and Henry and Clare’s love is what allows them to overcome the obstacles placed in their path: Henry’s frequent trips through time, the turbulence it injects in their lives, and the frequent danger it puts Henry in. In a way, Henry and Clare never really chose one another: when Clare meets Henry, she is six and he is 36, and in Henry’s present he is already married to Clare. When Henry meets Clare, he is 28 and she is 20, and future Henry had been visiting Clare throughout her childhood. Not only is 20-year-old Clare already in love with Henry, but she has known that they would ultimately get married since her early adolescence. Despite this, the love that they feel is palatable, the thread that keeps them both going.

And so, this story is a testament to the power of love, affirming the idea that true love will survive everything else. But it also shows how, in the absence of free will, you can be trapped by your fate. It’s a bittersweet story, one that resonated deeply for me.