The Heads of Cerberus Essay - Critical Essays

Gertrude Barrows Bennett


The novel is a notable combination of time travel and dystopian social satire. Although the coherence of the plot appears to suffer from a change of authorial plan during the composition of the work, several interesting features combine to establish Francis Stevens imaginative power. The complex account of time is one such feature. After the three protagonists return to their own era, a former associate of Andrew Power tells them “Time is not a dimension.” It is a sequence, or rather a comparative sequence of vibrations. The novel also suggests that the dichotomy between subjectivity and objectivity is difficult to reconcile with the concept of time.

Another striking feature of the novel is its emphasis on the suffering that can result from human folly elevated to ideological status. The Philadelphia of 2118 is a dystopia in which the vocabulary of private ownership has been manipulated to the advantage of the ruling gangsters and to the disadvantage of the working class. Surely Stevens preoccupation with such a self-serving ideology reflects her reaction to the Bolshevik Revolution of 1917. One should in fairness also note that the unscrupulous capitalists who have reduced Robert Drayton to crime represent a similar depravity of human potential, but clearly a greater emphasis is placed on the dehumanizing effects of Communism, with its devastating brutality and its gross distortion of history. The hidden machine guns in the former City Hall of...

(The entire section is 542 words.)