Style and Technique
As in “The Man Who Studied Yoga,” the companion piece to Norman Mailer’s “The Time of Her Time,” the key to the story’s meaning is the narrator. Although Sergius is Denise’s antagonist, he shows remarkable sympathy and respect for her, almost as if she is his other half. He can portray her as frigid and reductionist in her judgments, yet he acknowledges her as a genuine quester to whom he feels compelled to accord a tribute, however ambivalent.
Sergius’s mixed feelings about Denise do mask his own internal divisions. He wants to be strong, but he also wants to have the courage to admit his fear and inadequacy—which, in a way, Denise has done in her own case by coming to him. By allowing her to speak so clearly and boldly, he is implying not only that she is a match for him but also that he has learned something from her, grown in his ability to scrutinize himself.
The true heroism of “The Time of Her Time” is the narrator’s willingness to recognize his own absurdity and powerlessness. Paradoxically, he asserts power by dramatizing how he has been stripped of it. It is not his physical prowess but his mental agility and sensitivity that triumph in the story.
If Mailer makes fun of his hero, he also gives him a full and honest voice that honors the objective of his quest: to be the best at what he does, in both the bullring and the bed. Denise has been attracted to that authentic quality, even though she seeks to deny it at the end of their affair. For Sergius, Denise is another encounter with reality, in which he simultaneously loses and gains control of himself, succumbs to and dominates his times. He makes his story, and Denise’s, into a fable of all romantic quests—doomed to failure and yet assertive of self-growth.