The Night Circus

by Erin Morgenstern

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In "The Night Circus," what role does time play and is it manipulated or fated?

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Time plays a big role in The Night Circus. It is manipulated, and it underpins the themes of fate and love.

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I am not sure time is ever fated, but time is definitely manipulated in The Night Circus. It is a very interesting manipulation too. Celia and Marco are in a battle with one another. The battle ends when one of them dies. However, death by old age is not possible. The Night Circus is the "battleground" for their battle, and anybody associated with the Night Circus is a part of the battleground. The venue itself depends on the fate of Celia and Marco. The circus will remain unchanged so long as they remain. This does something very odd with time. Time passes at a completely normal rate for everyone involved. People inside the circus and outside the circus still feel the passage of time. However, the members of the circus do not age (or age incredibly slowly). Time has been halted for them in this regard. However, Poppet and Widget do (for some reason) age normally even though they are circus performers. As a thematic element, time is related to the book's love story. Celia and Marco are supposed to destroy each other. However, they end up falling in love. In order to save themselves and the circus, they have to find a way to exist outside of the circus without killing each other or anybody in the circus. This is why Bailey plays such an important role. The circus will presumably continue forever because it is ultimately rebound to Bailey and his life, and Celia and Marco are now able to actually live happily together forever.

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Time is a central motif in The Night Circus, made all the more complex for its unpredictability. The laws of physics and space are bent regularly throughout the novel, while time is a linear constraint; and yet the conception of time itself is challenged. The structure of the narrative is the easiest example: the story jumps around in time, beginning in the modern day before switching to the nineteenth century. Even smaller jumps in time contribute to the sense that time does not follow the usual rules, and the story ends where it begins, creating a sense of circularity.

Time largely adheres to typical constraints. The exception to that is aging: the inhabitants of the circus age so slowly that they appear not to age at all.  

Time itself does not appear to be fated, but fate does depend on time. For example, Isobel tells Marco that she only met him because of a sudden change to her schedule, and that they were not fated to meet: it was a random accident of time. In this conversation, time is established to be something of an independent variable.

While time may be independent, it is highly unreliable. Hector Bowen highlights this to his daughter in a conversation about Celia's mother. While he only spent a few weeks in her company, he tells her, he remembers her better than Celia, who spent years with her. 

Time is constantly shifted and manipulated by the story structure; but it continues to be a linear, unmoved force.

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