A Time of Changes is a primary source, documenting the American mentality of the 1960’s. The science-fictional adventures of Kinnall Darival loosely parallel the actual experiences of such pioneers of consciousness expansion as Timothy Leary and Richard Alpert. The mind-altering drug used by Kinnall and his friends in the novel is a fictional representative of the psychedelic family.
Despite the death of his bondsister and the ruination of his own life, Kinnall is unrepentant to the end. He forgives himself a number of mistakes in carrying out his evangelical mission but continues to uphold its first principles. The novel seems to glorify drugs as a means of personal and social liberation, but such an interpretation would be simplistic.
The protagonist, the first-person narrator, is not completely reliable. Kinnall’s views are not identical with those of the author and should not be accepted as truth by the reader.
Borthan society brilliantly evokes 1960’s America in its desperate attempt to demobilize in the extended aftermath of World War II. The pretense of selflessness, the paranoia, the hypocrisy, and the reluctance to express love, or any other intense feelings, are fair targets for counterculture criticism. Psychedelic solutions to these social evils, however, need to be taken in moderate dosage, if at all. Kinnall’s miraculous drug can be seen as a stopgap solution to a desperate problem, or it can be seen as a literary symbol for a real and lasting solution.
On the other hand, native American cultures and others have used mind-altering substances, including psychedelics such as peyote and mescaline, in religious contexts from time immemorial. In fact, Christianity seems to sanctify wine as symbolizing the blood of Jesus, and the dominant culture in America approves the use of alcohol in other forms.
A curious anomaly appears in the background to A Time of Changes. At least one other dystopian society so injurious to the individual as to outlaw use of the first-person singular pronoun was previously imagined. Ayn Rand’s slender anticommunist novel, Anthem (1938), uses the same concept to extol the virtue of selfishness. A Time of Changes has to be situated somewhere well to the left on the political spectrum, and it demonstrates the virtue of sharing.