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The Time Traveler's Wife

The Time Traveler's Wife

by Audrey Niffenegger

The Time Traveler's Wife Book 1, Chapter 4 Summary

How It All Goes Down

Lessons in Survival

  • Thursday, June 7, 1973 (Henry is 27, and 9): Older Henry and younger Henry visit the Art Institute of Chicago, where older Henry gives younger Henry some more lessons in survival while time traveling, one of which is how to be a good pickpocket. Young Henry hesitates, because he believes such actions to be wrong. Older Henry has already wised up to the fact that a time traveler must value his survival over his morals, but still feels bad about corrupting his younger self.
  • After a few tries, young Henry catches on to the task at hand and actually begins to enjoy his new criminal ways. In a smooth effort of teamwork, the two Henrys relieve a middle-aged man of his wallet. After a nice dinner, they get a hotel room from their proceeds. As they brush their teeth, young Henry asks old Henry why they can't always time travel together. Henry motions him to look in the mirror. "We are the same" (1.4.41). Old Henry watches young Henry comprehend the meaning of his statement, "the loneliness of it" (1.4.42). "What about… other time travelers?" young Henry asks. Old Henry explains that so far he hasn't found any. His younger self begins to cry.
  • Sunday, December 10, 1978 (Henry is 15, and 15): The two Henrys hang out in present Henry's bedroom. The other version is there from next March. The two boys do what young boys past puberty (who haven't gotten around to actual girls yet) do: they masturbate. Henry's father walks in on them and immediately leaves, shocked and disgusted. Present Henry blames his older version for the incident because he knew it was going to happen, but didn't warn him. Older Henry explains that it doesn't matter – since it has already happened in the future, the event can't be undone. He reminds younger Henry of an incident where he watched a young girl get hit in the head with a hockey puck. He kept traveling back to the event, trying to warn the girl's mother, but all he could so was witness her death again each time, helpless. "It was like being the audience at a movie. It was like being a ghost" (1.4.59).
  • Older Henry further explains that, as far he knows from future selves, their actions in the future change his past, which in turn determines his present. So really, Henry has free will, because everything has already happened. At the same time, older Henry advises younger Henry that he needs to live as though he has free will and is also responsible for his actions, because if he doesn't, he'll be miserable.
  • Wednesday, November 17/Tuesday, September 28, 1982 (Henry is 19): Henry sits in the back of a police car, arrested for breaking into a house. He reflects on the fact that he has been arrested seven times so far, but always disappeared before they could fingerprint him or take a photo. And that's what happens once again. He pops back in time, lying in the backyard of his parents' house.
  • Saturday, May 14, 1983 (Clare is 11, almost 12): Clare is invited to the birthday party of one of her school friends. When the girls play the Ouija board, Clare's friend Helen poses the question: "What boys like Clare?" The board answers: "Henry." Clare's friends now all want to know who this Henry guy is. Clare denies that she knows anyone by that name. So another friend asks the board, "Who's Henry?" The board answers: "Husband." That really freaks out Clare.
  • Thursday, April 12, 1984 (Henry is 36, Clare is 12): Clare and Henry play chess in the woods. They chat about The Beatles. Clare admits that John is her favorite Beatle; Henry realizes he's suddenly jealous of John. When Clare asks him whom he liked when he was twelve, he says he had a crush on Patty Hearst because he could relate to her life, "…forced to do stuff she didn't want to do, and then it seemed like she was kind of enjoying it" (1.4.136). Clare asks him whom he likes now. Henry reflects on his 20s, and remembers a faceless, nameless woman, who is now just a blur to him. When Clare inquires about his future 36-year-old, self, now here with her, he tells her that he's married to "a beautiful, patient, talented, smart woman" (Clare, of course). Clare keeps pushing to find out more information on his wife, but he declines to reveal more about her. Clare starts to cry because she hoped that in the future she might be his wife.
  • Wednesday, June 27, 1984 (Clare is 13): Clare is sitting in the meadow, thinking about Henry. It dawns on her that most girls don't have a Henry, as she does. Knowing that Henry knows her somewhere out in the future fills her with both a fear of and a longing to see him again. But, according to the dates Henry gave her, he won't come today. She's all alone, waiting.
  • Sunday, September 23, 1984 (Henry is 35, Clare is 13): Henry appears in the meadow. He finds a box of clothes, stashed there by Clare, plus a few snacks. He falls asleep. When he wakes up, Clare is sitting next to him. Henry notices the physical changes in her as she's growing into a young woman. Clare made some coffee for the two, even though she hates it. Henry tells her that she likes hers with lots of cream and sugar. Clare doesn't like it when he tells her about her future self. "You're making me into a freak… How am I going to figure out if that's what I like or if I just like it because you tell me I like it?" (1.4.237). Henry asserts that it's still her own choice what she likes or not. Her own free will, unlike him, who constantly runs up against the fact that he can't change things, save for things that work toward what has already happened.
  • Their conversation leads into a discussion about God. Raised as a good catholic girl, Clare wants to believe in a universe where life derives meaning and order through the hands of God. The randomness of his time-traveling disorder has made Henry an agnostic. He believes that life is random and meaningless. They debate about different theories of the universe. Clare insists that she wants to have God in her universe. Henry knows that being with him will change her mind in the future.

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