Themes

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Last Reviewed on June 19, 2019, by eNotes Editorial. Word Count: 237

Doomsday Book by Connie Willis begins in the year 2054 and centers on Kivran, an Oxford University history student. Kivrin and her professor, Mr. Dunworthy, have been using time travel to explore the Middle Ages, and in the beginning of the novel, Kivrin believes she is being transported to the year 1320. In reality, due to a technical glitch, she is instead sent to the year 1348, at almost the exact time the Great Plague arrives in Oxford. Mr. Dunworthy almost immediately realizes the mistake and spends the rest of the novel trying to find Kivrin.

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One of the main themes of the book is miscommunication. Mr. Dunworthy cannot reach Kivrin through time, so Kivrin is not only unaware that she has been sent to the wrong time period, but she also does not know that there is a terrible plague occurring in her present day of 2054. Another theme is that of frustration and helplessness, especially as Kivrin sees people she has grown to care about die because antibiotics have yet to be invented. Kivrin also resents how much time it takes to perform basic activities in the year 1320 that have been rendered completely unnecessary in modern times. Another major theme is that even though centuries separate them, people in the two time periods are ultimately very similar. For instance, in the year 2054, there is still ignorance and xenophobia when the modern plague arrives with people complaining about "infected foreigners."

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