Study Guide

The Time Traveler's Wife Setting

By Audrey Niffenegger


Chicago and South Haven, MI

The Meadow in South Haven

The meadow near the Abshire family home represents the cradle of Clare's relationship with Henry. It's where she meets him for the first time when she is 6 years old and Henry is 43. The meadow becomes their meeting place throughout Clare's childhood and teenage years. It's where Henry and Clare share their first real kiss and where they make love for the first time. The meadow also serves as a place of peace and respite from Henry's troubled present life with Clare as he spends time with a younger, carefree Clare.

It's important to note, however, that the majority of Henry and Clare's moments of happiness in the meadow take place in warm weather. In the winter season, the meadow takes on a different meaning. It becomes the place that Henry doesn't recognize when Clare brings him home for Christmas in their present. It also figures as the tragic location of Henry's death.

Meadowlark House in South Haven

Housing an impressive 24 rooms and a staff of a gardener, a cook, and a housekeeper, Meadowlark House is Clare's big family residence. During their first date in the present, Clare explains to Henry that the house was built by a renowned architect for Clare's grandparents, and that her family is kind of "posh." Henry, who had a modest upbringing, is quite impressed by the grandeur of the house. Yet, he describes the interior as resembling "an ad for Pottery Barn" in which Clare's family plays "model family" (1.9.78). Behind the splendor and good cheer, the family members really struggle with their relationships with one another. So, in a sense, Meadowlark House just reflects the image or idea that Clare's family likes to project to the world, "an advertisement for the bourgeoisie." Henry also realizes that this "ad" is a life and an idea that Clare rejects, which is why she's the only one in her family to leave and to build her own life.


The largest part of the story takes place in various locations in Chicago. Henry lives in Chicago all his life. Clare chooses to move to Chicago to attend the Art Institute, but mainly because she knows that she eventually meets Henry. The Chicago of Clare and Henry's world is a literary haven, a community of artists and free thinkers. It also offers a thriving club and music scene.

The Newberry Library in Chicago

The Newberry Library is where Clare and Henry's relationship begins in Henry's present. In many ways, the setting acts as microcosm of Henry's daily life. While the Newberry never changes because it's a world where thing are ordered and are kept in chronological time, Henry keeps wreaking havoc within that world. He may be the most competent librarian there, but he's also completely unreliable and his naked wanderings in the library keep the whole staff guessing about his level of sanity. Yet none of them calls him on it. So the Newberry acts as Henry's safe haven – a place where he can go about his time traveling ways. When Roberto, his superior, catches him in his birthday suit in the Cage, those rosy days seem to be over. Faced with two versions of Henry explaining his condition, Roberto not only believes him, but also generously decides to not fire Henry. So the Newberry is and remains the one public place in Henry's world where time traveling seems to be an accepted thing to do.

Henry and Clare's House in Chicago

After Clare complains that she has no space in their tiny apartment to work on her art, Henry uses his time traveling skills to rig the Lottery and Clare suddenly finds herself with $8 million to her name. But as they start hunting for a new house, courtesy of the expanded budget, Clare grows frustrated again, this time with Henry because he claims he's already seen their house in the future. She asks him to let her go out to find it on her own. She finally does find the house of their future, but on her own terms, which makes the house her choice too.

The house mirrors Clare and Henry's married life, marked by ups and downs. At times, it provides a safe haven, a place where they make love, where they live with their daughter, and where Clare loses herself in her art. But the house also witnesses Henry's frequent absences, leaving Clare alone and worried. It sees Clare's miscarriages, many arguments, and, finally, Henry's death. So it might not come as a surprise that when Henry meets 82-year-old Clare, she has moved to a different home.

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