Callie’s Outline

On the use of time in Tom Stoppard’s Arcadia and Jonathan Safron Foer’s Extremely Loud and Incredibly Close

  1. Introduction
    1. Thesis: The immutability of the tragic past becomes a central theme in both Arcadia and Extremely Loud and Incredibly Close, in which the characters are forced to confront their own inability to change the events that have come to define their lives. At the same time, Stoppard and Foer explore the non-linear nature of time, using variations in structure, form, and content to offer a commentary on the potentials of metaphorical rebirth and the past and present as an elastic, cyclical history.
  2. The progression of themes: Time, heat, and fire.
    1. Time: The events of the past, and particularly tragedy, as immutable.
      1. The towers go down, Dresden burns, and Thomasina is killed in her own fire
        1. These are the defining narrative events from each story, and cannot be changed
          1. This despite Oscar’s bargaining—his inventions, his bruises, his focus on the science of collapse and destruction
        2. We can’t change or even truly understand the past
          1. While there will always be the desire and the temptation to try and fill in the gaps in our knowledge, it is ultimately an unachievable task
            1. Story is built around people trying anyways
              1. The modern Sidley Park, trying to uncover the historical secrets of the estate: Byron, the hermitage, grouse, etc.
              2. Oskar’s careful construction of his father’s last moments: which direction he went, whether people jumped, whether his father is the jumper he sees in the picture
    2. Heat
      1. Stoppard uses the theory of heat as the manifestation of the irreversible past
        1. The second law of Thermodynamics: heat dissipates
          1. There is no such thing as the perfect heat engine, for some amount of heat must always be lost
            1. The smashed window: “you can put back the bits of glass but you can’t collect up the heat of the smash. It’s gone”
          2. substitution of heat for time as the dominant linear concept
            1. While in Arcadia, we and the characters are offered glimpses into the past, the actions there—the human heat of the events—cannot be changed or undone
    3. Fire’s capacity for not only physical destruction, but erasure
      1. The cleansing fire, which consumes its victims, wiping them from not only the world but the narrative of that world.
      2. But also, the capacity for rebirth
        1. “We shed as we pick up”
        2. while the knowledge and the narrative might be lost, it allows the chance for future generations to rediscover them
          1. In Arcadia, how would the story change, had there been no fire? The beauty of the present timeline, with Hannah, Val, and Bernard all searching for their own versions of the truth, lies in their inability to be certain of what came before them. They can (and do) construct their own narratives of the 19th century Sidley House and its residents, which becomes the impetus for their own personal growth
          2. In ELaIC, Oskar’s entire journey around New York is predicated on this
            1. He creates new family members, in a way: Mr. Black and Abby, e.g
              1. Significant: they all come to the play
            2. Discovers and rekindles relationships
              1. grandfather, mother
    4. Cyclical nature of time
      1. Following directly from the discussion of fire’s uses and importance.
        1. Just as the fire creates a blank slate of sorts, and allows the (mythical and metaphorical) rebirth from the ashes, it is a great example of the way both Stoppard and Foer emphasize the cyclicity of time
      2. The reemergence of events
        1. ELaIC:
          1. Dresden, Hiroshima, 9/11
          2. Thomas Sr. leaving his wife again, 40 years after the first time
          3. The recording of Hiroshima, with the mother watching the death of her daughter, reemerges in the grandmother watching the towers fall with Thomas inside them
      3. The letters
        1. The grandmother’s childhood letters that burn in Dresden, her husband’s unsent letters to Thomas, finally buried in his son’s empty grave; and Oskar’s own letters to celebrities, a habit he begins only after 9/11
      4.  Knowledge?
        1. Fit here or above?
  3. Conclusion


Callie —

A wonderful topic.  Acadia and Extremely Loud and Incredibly Close  converge in so many ways: time, memory, the irreversibility of the past and its persistence in the present, and thermodynamics as the medium of destruction as well as the medium for rebirth.  You might also want to talk more generally about what it means to have actual historical events and figures being included in these fictive worlds.  Very much looking forward to how this unfolds!

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