Study Guide

A Canticle for Leibowitz Time

By Walter M. Miller, Jr.

Time

"Wheel in the sky keeps on turning, I don't know where I'll be tomorrow." Hey, far be it from us to correct Journey, but if they'd read their Miller, then they'd know the answer to this meditation: the same place they are today. In A Canticle, time is cyclical. The years pass, dates grow, but these futuristic eras are all equal to periods humanity has already visited in the past. The story of Fiat Homo takes place in a future society equivalent to the Dark Ages. Fiat Lux takes place in a repeat Renaissance, and Fiat Voluntas Tua occurs in a new modern age very much like the mid-20th century. Can humanity escape this recurrent nightmare of history already lived? Maybe. But don't bet on it.

Questions About Time

  1. What do you think the novel's ending says about the theme of time? How about the awakening of Rachel? Has history's recurrent nightmare ended with the realization of space travel, or is this just another link in an ever-growing chain?
  2. Why do you suppose Miller chooses to re-imagine three eras: the Dark Ages, the Renaissance, and then a futuristic time period? What is important about these three?
  3. Looking toward our own history, do you see evidence to support Miller's idea of cyclic time? Why or why not? Don't forget to use examples from the book to support your answer.

Chew on This

Miller's concept of repeating history isn't the same as destiny. The struggles of characters such as Dom Paulo and Zerchi suggest free will could potentially break the cycle.

Time in A Canticle of Leibowitz counters the idea of time in most science fiction novels. Instead of A Canticle's cyclical time, most sci-fi novels portray time as a linear form of uninterrupted progress.

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