In chapter fifteen of Marge Piercy’s Woman on the Edge of Time, the guard from the alternative future states, “There is no such thing as time travel” (293). Although the statement is in regard to Connie introducing herself as someone who is “time traveling,” the guard’s statement is a stark contrast against the time-hopping backdrop of Piercy’s novel.
Part of me wonders if his comment isn’t Piercy herself, coming through and letting the reader know that Connie is indeed a bit crazy. The past (through Connie’s memories), the present, and the two separate future(s) all seem to be reflections of themselves, as well as Connie’s experiences with past events, people, and emotions. She thinks back to her relationships with numerous partners—mostly ex-husbands—outlining specific events with Claud, Martin, Eddie, and the other men she has shared moments with. These moments define her, both in the present and in the future, and she uses them to gauge her current emotions. For example, in the future, Connie begins to reflect on her relationship with Martin. Piercy writes:
Martin had been dead almost half the time she had lived. What was the use of crying now? Yet she mourned him freshly, thinking that in the future they might have lived side by side for half a century. There he could have that respect he longed for, the respect whose lack tormented him like a raging thirst… In Mattapoisett she too would face respect. And learning. (207-8).
Even though Connie has been with several men since Martin, she still throws herself back into these moments where the emotion overcomes her and she begins to think of someone else, as well as herself, in a different way. These moments make me question whether or not Connie is time traveling at all. Her fresh mourning feels like a flashback—a moment of mourning solidified through the reminiscence of memories—rather than Connie briefly debating the humanity and respect of her long-gone ex-lover in a future world.
Connie also constantly connects characters to one another: Angelina and Dawn, Bee and Claud, and even the similarities between Gildina and Dolly. These connections reinforce the idea that Connie is building these future worlds around her own past and present.
Within each of the futures, Connie witnesses and even partakes in activities similar to what she encountered in her past and present. Before she has sex with Bee, the reader is well-informed that Connie recognizes the similarities between Bee and Claud. Not only does she bluntly tell him, “… you remind me of someone” (178), but she also details the sexual encounter in a way that echoes past lovers. Piercy writes, “[Connie] felt swollen equally with old tears and present wanting, the memory of Claud and the presence of Bee. Who was not Claud. But made her remember” (179).
Throughout the sex itself, Connie’s comments reference Claud numerous times and she even directly tells Bee that he gave her “back to Claud for a night” (181). Claud’s response is perhaps even more interesting, as he comments: “I’m not Claud. Maybe I look like Claud did. Maybe I move like per. You feel so…. Maybe I am potentialities in per that could not flourish in your time. But I am also me, Bee, friend of Luciente, friend of yours” (182). His language seems to suggest that he isn’t quite Claud, but yet he isn’t quite not Claud either, especially when he contends that his “potentialities… that could not flourish in [Connie’s] time.” Claud, like everyone else in the novel (with the exception of Gildina and the guard who do not understand what time travel is and refuse to acknowledge it respectively), seem to be incredibly aware of time and have no problem referring to Connie as someone who is not quite from their time period.
Even earlier in the chapter, when Connie begins to exhibit feelings towards Dawn, Dawn refers to her as “the person from the past” (174). Connie’s blend of relationship and experience also extends towards Dawn, as she has a near-ethereal moment when the moonlight reveals Dawn’s face. Piercy writes:
In their real future, [Dawn] had been dead a hundred years or more; she was the dead who lived in them. Ancestor. Feeling remote from the moment, [Connie] fixed her eyes on Dawn’s wondering face. A terrible desire to hold that child’s body tantalized her flesh with the electrical itch of wanting. To touch her gently. Just once. (174)
Connie does not necessarily think of Dawn as Luciente’s daughter, but rather an “ancestor”—an actual replication of Angelica within the future Connie has access to. For Connie, Dawn represents the daughter she lost; Dawn is Connie’s Angelina.
When the guard insists the time travel isn’t real, it almost makes sense. How could Connie forge all of these connections and resemblances and posses the ability to hop between these without making forging the threads herself?
Even at the beginning of the novel, Connie is questioning whether or not Luciente even exists (before the reader even knows who Luciente is the first time around), thinking, “Either I saw him or I didn’t and I’m crazy for real this time” (1).
But what does this constant loop of recollection and experience mean for the reader, especially in a larger social context?
Part of me wants to believe that Piercy is commenting on the way we reconstruct memory and experience. In the same way that our memories are particular and subjective, they are broad and objective. Any time Connie travels to another future, she realizes there are people who are just like the other people she has known. There is no separation between past, present, and future, because the cycle of life has placed in within a time loop where every single day is the past, present, and future. We are not singular or spectacular. There will always be someone else like us.
On another side, however, Connie’s two separate futures seem to paint a bleak picture of the roads that are paving society. Luciente’s future world is by no means perfect, and its flaws are referenced throughout the book. The second alternative future is definitely not perfect, and its flaws are more heavily detailed. Perhaps Piercy set these futures up as a way to display two different, yet eerily similar paths. Because we are not creatures of perfection, there will always be flaws within the future.