Time and Again by Jack Finney: Summary & Analysis

Instructor: Kerry Gray

Kerry has been a teacher and an administrator for more than twenty years. She has a Master of Education degree.

In this lesson, we will summarize and analyze 'Time and Again' by Jack Finney. This novel details a secret military study about time travel through hypnosis.

Simon Morley

If you could travel back in time, where would you go? Why? In Time and Again, Jack Finney tells the fictional story of Simon Morley, Si, an artist who is recruited by the government to help with a time traveling experiment. Let's summarize and analyze this story.

Danziger's Experiment

In this story, a military official approaches Si and offers him an unusual government job in time-travel. Si is invited to a warehouse that is filled with actors and sets. Mr. Danziger, the scientist in charge of the project, has a theory that people can time-travel if they can convince themselves that they are in the past already.

Si wants to go back to 1882 to learn about a letter from a man named Andrew Carmody that Si's girlfriend, Kate Mancuso, has obtained. The letter is partially charred, but contains the phrase, ''the destruction by fire of the entire World…''. Si agrees to travel back into the past if he can go to the time and place in which the letter was mailed to find out what it means.

Time Travel

Danziger agrees to let Si make his trip, but will not travel with Si because he wants to use the same set to travel back to watch his parents meet for the first time.

Si's first few trips back in time go well. Si discovers that a man named Jake Pickering mailed Kate's letter, learns his address, and that he is blackmailing Carmody, the author of the letter. During these visits back in time, Si starts to have romantic feelings toward Julia, Pickering's love interest.

When Si returns to the present, he finds that other participants in the time travel project have unknowingly made changes to the present. Danziger decides to shut down the project, but he is overruled, so he resigns.

On Si's fourth trip, he learns that Julia is engaged to Pickering. Si shows Julia the truth about her fiancé by sneaking her into Pickering's office to spy on him. Carmody, who is being blackmailed by Pickering, arrives to settle the conflict. Carmody knocks out Pickering, ties him up, and searches the office. Carmody decides to burn all the files, but catches the building on fire in the process.

Si and Julia barely escape. Si realizes that the sentence in Kate's letter read, ''the destruction by fire of the entire World Building'' as Pickering's office was in the ''New York World'' newspaper building. Pickering does not resurface.

Police arrest Si and Julia, taking them to Carmody's house. Carmody is badly burned and accuses Si and Julia of setting the fire after killing Pickering. The police detective frames them by letting them go and then yelling ''The prisoners are escaping.''

Hiding Out

Si and Julia escape, and hide out in the unassembled Statue of Liberty's arm in Madison Square Garden. Si tells Julia about his time travel, which she does not believe at first. When Si convinces her, he brings her back to the present. They emerge from the now constructed Statue of Liberty.

The arm of the Statue of Liberty in Madison Square
Statue of Liberty 1882

In Si's apartment, he explains the changes that have taken place from 1882-1970. They discover that the burned man in Carmody's house was really Pickering. It was Carmody who died in the fire. Julia returns to 1882, using the information about Pickering to prevent him from harming her.

When Si returns to work, he is asked to change the past regarding Pickering's influence on Grover Cleveland. Pickering convinced the former president not to buy Cuba from Spain. Now, military officials want Pickering's influence over Cleveland to be limited to prevent the uprising of Fidel Castro. After consulting with Danziger, Si decides that altering history in this way could be dangerous. Si returns to 1882 to interfere with Danziger's parents' first meeting. By preventing Danziger's birth, other changes in history may be avoided. Si then decides to stay with Julia in 1882.

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