Jumping from Past to Present

As mentioned in class yesterday, Clay’s Ark by Octavia Butler switches between chapters of the past and the present. After reading parts two and three, I believe that the reason for the shift in time is for the reader to gain information on Eli, as the Maslin family gains information about the extraterrestrial organism. Unlike Toni Morrison’s Home, I am not confused by the changes in time by Clay’s Ark, and enjoy anticipating what the next chapter will reveal.

In both Clay’s Ark and Home the chapters shift between different periods of time. However, in Clay’s Ark the shift between the present and past tells two individual stories in chronological order that the reader can follow without constantly questioning. As the Maslin family gains information on the organism and how it was brought to Earth, the reader gains background information on Eli’s story and how he affected Meda and her family. Although entering the book may be challenging by opening on a destroyed ship with a nameless man, as the past unfolds it becomes easier to follow. In the later chapters of the past in part, Eli is no longer solely referred to as he or him, and the story continues from where it had left off before entering the present. By each past and present chapter entering where the previous chapter had left off, the reader becomes less confused about the circumstances regarding each chapter. From my experience with Clay’s Ark now, I am finding it easier to understand compared to Home. I believe that the chapters in Home are meant to confuse the reader, similar to how Frank Money feels after he returns from the war. However, the purpose of Morrison’s chapters are not only to confuse the reader to relate to Money’s feelings, but also to describe Money’s story differently than the story surrounding the extraterrestrial organism.

Although both novels describe the past in different ways I believe that the purpose is the same, to inform the reader and reveal the circumstances that led the main character to act as they did. For Eli, the driving force of his actions is the extraterrestrial organism, while Frank’s driving force is his experiences in the war and his sufferings of PTSD. Although I struggled with the shifts in time in Butler’s reading at first, I do not believe that the purpose of her novel is to create confusion between the time changes, but to relay a different message that I have yet to figure out. I believe that through Butler’s strategy of shifting between the past and the present the story of the past will catch up to the story in the present, and the message of the novel will become more evident with increasing details.

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