Two important themes in Bring the Jubilee are the nature of time and the importance of the individual in history. Both are important concerns of alternate history in general. Like Philip K. Dick’s alternate history The Man in the High Castle (1962), Bring the Jubilee questions the role of chance in determining events. Does an individual have the power to change events, or are all events predestined?
Ward Moore explores these themes through Backmaker’s discussions with Tyss and Enfandin. Tyss argues that all actions result from stimuli, not thought, and that free will is an illusion. He also argues that time loops endlessly, with people repeating the same events. Moore contrasts Tyss’s point of view with that of Enfandin, who believes that everything is an illusion and that only God is real. Backmaker, however, argues that “there must have been a beginning. . . . And if there was a beginning, choice existed if only for that split second. And if choice exists once it can exist again.”
Backmaker, dreamy by nature, is not inclined to action but instead to let his life go as it may. Haggerwells must convince him to use her invention to go back in time; he uses her persuasion as an excuse to go, absolving him of responsibility. He comes to realize that even his refusal to speak to the Confederates at the battle site is a choice. His remark that “if choice exists once it can exist again,” coupled with the fact that he changes history, leads Backmaker to believe that free choice exists. He is haunted by the fear that he has wiped out Catty, Haggerwells, and his world, and that he is doomed to wipe them out repeatedly as time loops around again. Still, by allowing Backmaker to change history, Moore refutes Tyss’s model of the world and implies that individuals are capable of free choice and action. Backmaker grows from a boy who cannot make decisions into an adult who realizes that not making a choice is a kind of choice.
Bring the Jubilee is Moore’s second science-fiction novel, following Greener than You Think (1947). None of his other works, mainstream or science fiction, deals with time and history as explicitly as this famous work. Moore’s depth of characterization, emotion, and detail make this an enduring classic.