The Aim and Features of Time Travel Narratives

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About this sample


Words: 1677 |

Pages: 4|

9 min read

Published: Sep 1, 2020

Words: 1677|Pages: 4|9 min read

Published: Sep 1, 2020

Table of contents

  1. Introduction
  2. Time Travel as a Narrative Tool
  3. Time Travel as a Cognitive Tool
  4. Time Travel in "Kindred"
  5. Time Travel as Narrative Manipulation
  6. Time Travel as an Inherent Narrative Element
  7. Time Travel as Social Commentary
  8. Conclusion
  9. References


Time travel, a concept that has long fascinated humanity, has found a unique place in the world of literature and storytelling. Originally categorized as science fiction, time travel story was perceived as an unrealistic and fantastical notion, confined to the realm of fanciful tales. However, as writers have delved into new writing styles and techniques, they have discovered that time travel can serve as a powerful tool for narrative storytelling and rhetorical persuasion. This essay explores the incorporation of time travel into narratives, emphasizing its role in helping readers understand characters' perspectives, enhancing complex plot structures, and conveying overarching messages for society. Time travel narratives, in essence, serve as a bridge connecting intricate plots while offering valuable social commentary on the issues of the day.

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Time Travel as a Narrative Tool

Time travel has often been perceived as a fantastical concept, reserved for the realms of science fiction. It conjures images of elaborate machines and daring adventurers journeying through time and space. However, as writers have ventured into new realms of storytelling, they have discovered the profound narrative potential that time travel offers. This chapter explores how time travel functions as a narrative tool, allowing authors to enhance their storytelling in various ways.

In H.G. Wells' classic novel "The Time Machine," the author introduces us to the Time Traveller, a protagonist who embarks on a journey through time using his meticulously crafted machine. The narrative hinges on the idea that time is the fourth dimension, and the Time Traveller's adventures allow readers to explore this concept. Elana Gomel, in her academic journal "Shapes of the Past and Future: Darwin and the Narratology of Time Travel," delves into how time travel is crucial in shaping the narrative structure. She argues that time serves as the foundation of storytelling itself, influencing narrative elements like causality, agency, and directionality.

Time travel, as Gomel suggests, facilitates a sense of agency within the narrative. It enables authors to navigate between conflicting ideas among characters, establish a clear chain of causality, and provide direction to their stories. Complex narratives with multiple settings and simultaneous events can be simplified and made comprehensible to the audience by incorporating the concept of time travel. This simplification is achieved through seamless transitions between different moments, allowing readers to follow the story's progression without confusion.

In essence, time travel is not limited to the fantastical idea of teleporting through time; it is equally about using temporal transitions to create a cleaner, simpler narrative structure. By employing time travel in this way, authors ensure that their readers can grasp the story's complexity without getting lost in a maze of details.

Time Travel as a Cognitive Tool

Time travel, however, goes beyond being a narrative device; it also serves as a cognitive tool for authors. Fiona J. Stirling, in her reflection on "Personal Notions of Time Travel," challenges the notion that time travel is a mere fantasy. She argues that time travel is a mental ability, a way of thinking that writers use to organize their thoughts and construct coherent narratives.

Stirling's perspective sheds light on how authors mentally traverse time to connect past events, future predictions, character thoughts, and actions within a single, coherent story. This mental time travel allows authors to create intricate narratives that seamlessly weave together different temporal elements. By employing this approach, authors can present fragmented moments in time as a unified and interconnected narrative, captivating the reader's attention and imagination.

Stirling's reflection is a testament to how time travel enhances narratives. Instead of narrating events chronologically from start to finish, authors can leverage time travel to delve into the past, make connections to the present, or predict future outcomes within a causal chain of events. This approach not only enriches the storytelling process but also empowers authors to share their messages more effectively by focusing on what truly matters in the narrative.

In this context, time travel becomes a tool for authors to construct narratives that are both engaging and thought-provoking. It enables them to craft stories that transcend the constraints of linear time, allowing readers to explore the depths of character development, plot intricacies, and thematic complexities.

Time Travel in "Kindred"

The incorporation of time travel into narratives is not limited to abstract concepts; it finds concrete expression in works of literature. Octavia E. Butler's novel "Kindred" provides a compelling example of how time travel can shape a narrative and offer profound insights.

In "Kindred," the protagonist, Dana, is thrust into involuntary time travel, moving between the 1970s and the 1800s in Maryland. This use of time travel aligns with the traditional science fiction notion of shifting between different periods. Dana's involuntary travels highlight themes of displacement and the conflict between free will and predestination. Butler skillfully utilizes time travel to illuminate these themes, showcasing the stark contrast between Dana's life in the 1970s and her experiences in the 1800s, where she is considered a slave with no rights.

Butler's narrative does not stop at Dana's temporal shifts. It extends to the narrative structure itself, as the story moves between different characters and their diverse experiences, including those of free slaves, slaves, and white individuals. While these temporal shifts may initially appear disorienting, they serve a vital purpose in immersing the reader in the multifaceted environments Dana encounters.

In essence, "Kindred" demonstrates how time travel can bridge the gap between two vastly different periods, bringing to the forefront the tensions, conflicts, and complexities that arise when characters from diverse backgrounds and historical contexts interact. It is a testament to the power of time travel narratives to shed light on historical injustices, societal issues, and the enduring legacy of the past.

Time Travel as Narrative Manipulation

Wittenberg, in his work "Introduction: Time Travel and the Mechanics of Narrative," introduces an intriguing perspective on time travel narratives. He posits that all narratives are essentially time machines, allowing readers to mentally traverse various temporal landscapes. Wittenberg argues that time travel fiction not only represents the processes by which narratives are formed but also provides a platform for controlled exploration of narratological concepts.

Wittenberg's perspective underscores the idea that time travel stories serve as laboratories for authors to experiment with ideas about humanity, time, narrative, and philosophy. Within these narratives, authors have the opportunity to manipulate the story, focusing on specific elements while omitting distractions. This control over narrative focus enhances the clarity and impact of the intended message.

Authors leverage time travel to navigate through their narratives, honing in on what truly matters to convey their ideas effectively. This approach allows for the creation of stories that are not bound by the constraints of linear time but are, instead, shaped by the author's deliberate choices. Time travel narratives thus become a means through which authors can engage readers, provoke thought, and provide unique perspectives on complex subjects.

Time Travel as an Inherent Narrative Element

Beyond the deliberate use of time travel as a narrative tool, it is essential to recognize that time travel is inherently present in most narratives, whether consciously intended or not. Transitions, flashbacks, and shifts in perspective, all of which are commonly employed storytelling techniques, can be seen as forms of time travel within the narrative.

These elements allow authors to craft more concise narratives by skipping unnecessary details. In doing so, they ensure that the audience remains focused on the central message and themes of the story, without being overwhelmed by superfluous information. Time travel, in this sense, is not an abstract concept but a practical means of storytelling.

Time Travel as Social Commentary

Finally, time travel narratives extend beyond their role as narrative tools to serve as platforms for authors to provide social commentary. By manipulating time within their narratives, authors can depict characters' identities, motivations, and their relationships with different temporal settings. This flexibility allows authors to choose what messages they wish to convey, emphasizing the aspects of the narrative that truly matter.

Time travel narratives are, therefore, more than mere storytelling devices; they are vehicles for addressing societal issues and offering critical commentary. Through the manipulation of time, authors can explore historical injustices, contemporary challenges, and timeless human experiences. Time travel narratives become a medium through which authors engage with and reflect upon the world around them, ultimately leaving a lasting impact on society.


In conclusion, time travel narratives offer a rich and versatile platform for authors to engage readers, explore complex themes, and convey meaningful messages. Time travel, once relegated to the realm of science fiction, has become a powerful tool for crafting coherent and engaging stories. Whether used to bridge disparate periods, provide insights into character perspectives, or streamline complex plots, time travel narratives enable authors to communicate their ideas effectively.

Time travel is not limited to fantastical adventures but extends to the very structure of narratives themselves. Authors manipulate time to control the narrative focus and convey specific messages. In doing so, they create stories that resonate with readers and leave a lasting impact on society by addressing pressing issues and offering critical commentary.

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In essence, time travel narratives transcend the boundaries of science fiction and serve as a testament to the creative potential of storytelling. As authors continue to harness the power of time travel in their narratives, they bridge the past, present, and future, inviting readers to embark on journeys through time that are as enlightening as they are entertaining.


  1. Gomel, E. (2013). Shapes of the Past and Future: Darwin and the Narratology of Time Travel. The Comparatist, 37(1), 65-81.
  2. Stirling, F. J. (2010). Personal Notions of Time Travel. In A. Bardon, S. Bardon, & J. Savoy (Eds.), Time Travel in Popular Media: Essays on Film, Television, Literature and Video Games (pp. 141-150). McFarland.
  3. Butler, O. E. (1979). Kindred. Beacon Press.
  4. Wittenberg, D. (2010). Introduction: Time Travel and the Mechanics of Narrative. In A. Bardon, S. Bardon, & J. Savoy (Eds.), Time Travel in Popular Media: Essays on Film, Television, Literature and Video Games (pp. 1-12). McFarland.
  5. Grodal, T. K. (2009). Time Machine. In Moving Pictures: A New Theory of Film Genres, Feelings, and Cognition (pp. 212-221). Oxford University Press.
  6. Chatman, S. B. (1980). Story and Discourse: Narrative Structure in Fiction and Film. Cornell University Press.
  7. Phelan, J., & Rabinowitz, P. J. (2012). Understanding Narrative. Ohio State University Press.
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The Aim And Features Of Time Travel Narratives. (2020, September 01). GradesFixer. Retrieved February 21, 2024, from
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