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The predominant message about time in this novel is rather a sobering one. Again and again the text points to the inevitability of the passing of time, and how experiences, no matter how vivid and real they are, will undoubtedly pass and fade as the brief and mortal span of humanity draws itself to a close. This view of time is captured through the symbol of the sea, that broadly can be said to represent the relentless passing of time and the ceaseless forward motion that embodies time as characters move on and die. In the face of time, the skills, qualities, emotions and talents of characters are shown to be supremely transient. Note how the following quote captures the way in which time is presented as a somewhat oppressive force in this novel:
They both smiled, standing there. They both felt a common hilarity, excited by the moving waves; and then by the swift cutting race of a sailing boat, which, having sliced a curve in the bay, stopped; shivered; let its sails drop down; and then, with a natural instinct to complete the picture, after this swift movement, both of them looked at the dunes far away, and instead of merriment felt come over them some sadness—because the thing was completed partly, and partly because distant views seem to outlast by a million years (Lily thought) the gazer and to be communing already with a sky which beholds an earth entirely at rest.
Events, no matter how full of joy they are and no matter how happy, will eventually pass, and what oppresses Lily and Mr. Bankes in this quote is the "distant views" that "outlast by a million years... the gazer" and that are already speaking to a sky that is indifferent to the humans dwelling upon the earth. Scene in such a massive, cosmic scale, time is something that cuts humanity down to size, and it is this meaning inherent in time that various characters struggle with and against.
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