Study Guide

Woman on the Edge of Time Themes

  • Love

    Connie is unlucky in love. Like really unlucky in love. As in, multiple loves of her life are violently killed and everyone she cares about (her daughter, her niece) is taken from her. In order to love and be loved she needs to swoop into the future and have phantom sex and then even that gets taken away from her.

    Loving in Woman on the Edge of Time is really hard. If, like Skip, you do manage to have a successful love life in this messed-up world, somebody'll tell you that you're doing it the wrong way and doctors will get their brain implants and force that love out of you.

    Questions About Love

    1. In the novel, does Connie's love always lead to violence?
    2. How does the future of Mattapoisett treat love differently than the present?
    3. What is the most important love in Connie's life?

    Chew on This

    Connie is considered crazy because she can't love.

    Connie is considered crazy because she loves too much.

  • Madness

    Connie has an invisible friend and believes she travels to the future. She may be mentally ill. But Woman on the Edge of Time is less interested in telling you whether or not she's ill than it is in showing you what happens to people who are considered mentally ill.

    Even if Connie is schizophrenic, she's still a human being; doctors don't have the right to experiment on her brain, or keep her constantly drugged against her will. Is Connie really crazy for dreaming of a future in which you're not shunned or beaten or sneered at just because you're mentally ill?

    Questions About Madness

    1. Is Connie crazy or insane when she hits her daughter? When she poisons the doctors? Explain your answer.
    2. How are the mentally ill treated in Mattapoisett, and how is this different from how they are treated in the present?
    3. Who, if anyone, does this novel present as the most mentally ill?

    Chew on This

    Mattapoisett keeps Connie from going insane.

    Mattapoisett leads Connie to insanity.

  • Morality and Ethics

    Utopias are always about morality; they imagine what the world would be like if it were more moral and ethical (and maybe had awesome flying cars). Mattapoisett is more moral because there's little inequality; people don't have power over each other.

    But that raises the following question: what would it be moral to do to bring about this utopia? Can you hit somebody? Poison their coffee? Does utopia make Connie more moral, or does it make her willing to do terrible things?

    Questions About Morality and Ethics

    1. Connie kills the doctors in part to help Sybil escape. Is that a moral reason?
    2. When is violence immoral in Woman on the Edge of Time? When is it moral?
    3. Is the way that they treat children in Mattapoisett moral or immoral? Explain your answer.

    Chew on This

    Mattapoisett teaches Connie how to be more moral.

    Mattapoisett inspires Connie to act immorally.

  • Science

    Woman on the Edge of Time is not a fan of modern-day science. Scientists in the novel mostly seem to want to experiment on people and put implants in their brains.

    On the other hand, Mattapoisett imagines a world in which science helps create a paradise—automation allows people to avoid unpleasant jobs; growing children in tubes allows for gender equality. So it's not so much that science is evil, as it is that a bad society makes bad science and a good society can use science to make things better. If Dr. Frankenstein had been born in Mattapoisett, he would have built a happy monster (presuming the council had approved his project).

    Questions About Science

    1. How is science used differently in Mattapoisett and the alternate, evil future Connie sees?
    2. Are the scientists in the hospital interested in helping Connie? Explain your answer.
    3. Does Luciente seem like a scientist to you? Why or why not?

    Chew on This

    In Mattapoisett, science has transformed society.

    In Mattapoisett, society has transformed science.

  • Society and Class

    Mattapoisett is a future society without class. Nobody is above anybody else; nobody is more important than anybody else. The elimination of class in Woman On the Edge of Time is presented as creating a perfect society.

    On the other hand, back in the present, the novel suggests, the world is a miserable place because all kinds of classes—divided along lines of money, gender, and race—allow people to have power over each other.

    Questions About Society and Class

    1. How would the novel be different if Connie were not poor? If she could, for example, hire a lawyer?
    2. Is Luciente an important person in Mattapoisett? Explain your answer.
    3. What are important social values in Mattapoisett, and how do those differ from values in the present?

    Chew on This

    Mattapoisett shows that a classless society would be a utopia.

    Mattapoisett shows that a classless society would require tyrannical interference in people's personal lives.

  • Time

    You can tell "time" is an important theme because it's right there in the title Woman on the Edge of Time. And of course there's the whole part of the book where Connie keeps traveling to the future.

    But the book also has a lot of flashbacks and memory—and a good bit of waiting around and staring at the wall (when you're imprisoned in an asylum, you do a lot of that.) So "time" here means not just the future, but also the past and the present. It's a time smorgasbord.

    Questions About Time

    1. Can Connie affect the future? (And which future?)
    2. In what sense is Connie on the edge of, or off to the side of, time?
    3. Does knowledge of the future help or hurt Connie?

    Chew on This

    Connie travels to the future because she doesn't want to think about her past.

    Connie travels to the future because she wants to revisit her past.

  • Warfare

    You might think that a perfect future wouldn't have a war, but nope, Mattapoisett's got one. The Mattapoisettians are still fighting the remnants of rich, nasty people. And because of that war, Connie sees her own struggles as part of a war, in which violence is necessary and justified.

    In Woman on the Edge of Time, poisoning the doctors' coffee is part of an all-out war against the forces of oppression. Is Connie a hero? Or are her actions a criticism of the kind of heroism that we're supposed to admire in war?

    Questions About Warfare

    1. Without the war, would the book have much of a plot? Do you need violence in a science-fiction novel?
    2. What is the goal of Mattapoisett's war?
    3. What is the goal of Connie's war?

    Chew on This

    The war is an imperfection in a perfect future, and it spoils Connie's present as well.

    The future has a war because war is seen as necessary or good in some ways; it inspires Connie in the present to do what she has to do.

  • Women and Femininity

    Connie is treated like dirt by everybody in part because she's poor, in part because she's Hispanic, and in part because she's been mentally ill. But she's also treated like trash by everybody because she's a woman.

    Part of why the future is a utopia is that women are equal—and part of how they're made equal is by making childbearing and rearing the responsibility of both genders equally. Test-tube babies will set women free, says Woman on the Edge of Time.

    Questions About Women and Femininity

    1. How is mothering different in Mattapoisett than in our own time? Which vision of motherhood do you prefer, theirs or ours?
    2. Would Luis treat Connie differently if she were a man? Would the medical staff at the asylum?
    3. How would Dolly's life be different if she were born in Mattapoisett?

    Chew on This

    In Mattapoisett, there is no such thing as femininity.

    In Mattapoisett, there is no such thing as hatred of femininity.