Discuss theme of time and lost youth in relation to Alma in Summer and Smoke.

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Ashley Kannan eNotes educator| Certified Educator

Alma can embody the theme of time and lost youth in a couple of distinct ways.  One particular way she represents this theme is in her primary motivation.  In the exposition of her characterization, Alma recognizes that there is something more to being in the world.  She recognizes that part of the essence of consciousness is to use time to comprehend something more profound,“something that goes on and on when life and death and everything else is all through with.”  Alma sees the Gothic Cathedral as representing “the everlasting struggle and aspiration for more than our human limits have placed in our reach" and the drive to grasp this transcendent notion is “the principle back of existence.”  Alma configures time as the need to understand that which lies the physical.  In stark contrast to John, who is bound by the physicality, Alma seeks to embody her namesake of "soul" in her youth.

The transformation that Alma undergoes represents the full force of time and lost youth.  Alma becomes tethered to the condition of the body, and the reality of being in the world.  She becomes the physicality that John used to represent.  When she seeks to reclaim the physical condition of John, Alma articulates the full essence of time and lost youth:  "..now I have changed my mind, or the girl who said 'no', — she doesn't exist any more, she died last summer — suffocated in smoke from something on fire inside her."  Time and lost youth have impeded her communication to John and to herself.  She recognizes that the person she has become is one who seeks to reclaim that which has past.  The result of Alma's embodiment of time and lost youth is a world in which communication is absent, where empty chairs at desolate tables pervade consciousness:

The tables have turned, yes, the tables have turned with a vengeance! You've come around to my old way of thinking and I to yours like two people exchanging a call on each other at the same time, and each one finding the other one gone out, the door locked against him and no one to answer the bell!

Time and lost youth becomes the driving force behind Alma's character.  Her pursuit of Archie Kramer is an attempt to recapture that experience of the past.  It is a desperate attempt to reclaim that which has gone by Alma.  She has become the faded belle who longs to cling to what is outside of her reach. Whereas John has moved to a different developmental plane, Alma recognizes that her retreat to what John used to be is a desire to recapture time and her own youth that has passed.  Through Alma's transformation, the full force of Williams's theme of time and lost youth is evident.

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Summer and Smoke

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