The View from Saturday
by E. L. Konigsburg
Analysis: What's Up With the Title?
Workin' for the Weekend. "9-5." "Last Friday Night." We could go on. The point is, everyone loves the weekend.
And, well, who wouldn't? If you're like most people, you're either (1) in school, or (2) at work all week. (If you're really unlucky, you're dealing with both.) You put on your good clothes and your uncomfortable shoes; you deal with schoolyard bullies and goofball bosses (or worse). No wonder Saturday is so great.
But these Saturdays are a little different. Yeah, they're a nice break from school, but they're about something more.
Clip on your bow ties, Shmoopers, because we're about to lay a pretty big word on you—in Greek, no less:
Whew. Still there? Let's explain:
The ancient Greeks had two words for "time." You might recognize the first one: chronos. That's the root of our word "chronological," which means something along the lines of "things that happen in sequential order." In other words, time as we experience it every day. One day leads to the next; one school period ends and another begins; something that happened in 1944 comes before something that happened in 2008. Calendar time. Clock time. Factory time. School time.
Kairos is a little different. It means the right time, or the opportune time. The exact right time for something to happen, when time seems to stop all together. It's like in a musical, when all the action stops and people start singing about how they're feeling without moving the plot along.
Or, if you're celebrating a major holiday—like Easter, say, or Yom Kippur—sometimes it feels like you're not just celebrating that particular year's holiday but all the holidays that have happened in all the years since, well, the beginning of time. Like you're not in normal time at all, but outside of time.
Pretty deep, right? Too deep for a kid's book? Let's check it out:
When it's Ethan's turn to talk about the one day from his life that he'd like to live over, he knows exactly which day to choose: the first Saturday that The Souls met. "And look," he adds. "Every Saturday since, I get to do just that" ("Ethan".242).
To Ethan—and to all these kids—their Saturday tea parties are moments outside of time. They're not identical, because different things happen on each Saturday, but each Saturday also points back to that very first Saturday—just like every celebration of Easter is supposed to point back to the very first celebration of Easter; or every Passover Seder points back to the very first celebration of Passover.
Or, look at how Mrs. Olinski experiences her very first Saturday tea. When she arrives at Sillington House, she's angry and upset, "on the verge of screaming with pain and rage" (5.30). She's never going to be able to hug her grandchildren the way she sees Margaret and Izzy hug theirs.
The Saturday tea heals her. She drinks it "unhurriedly" (5.34), and at the end she knows that "someday she would drink another cup of slow tea at Sillington House" (5.38). This sense that everything is finally happening at the right time and at the same time that these Saturdays are special moments outside of time—that's pure kairos.
Oh, you know what else happens during these moments of kairos? How about a "sudden, intuitive perception of or insight into the reality of essential meaning of something"? In other words—an epiphany?