The Characters

(Critical Guide to British Fiction)

The reader of Voices in Time finds out comparatively little about the constructor of the narrative, John Wellfleet. He acts as the bridge between the generations, as a man who recalls what Montreal and the rest of the world was like before the Destructions, and as a kind of conscience for the guilt and responsibility of the generation who finally brought about the end of civilization and the death of billions of human beings.

The central figure is Conrad Dehmel, named after Joseph Conrad, the author of Heart of Darkness (1902), and Richard Dehmel, the German Romantic poet. Conrad Dehmel combines the tragic fate of German Romanticism, which could be said to lie behind both Nazism and militarism, and man’s inherent capacity for evil. His ill-fated love for a Jewish woman and his desire to work for the downfall of Hitler involve him in a web of deceit and destruction from which there is no escape except through the purgatory of Belsen. He is forced to acknowledge that intelligent and rational men are the last to recognize the bared teeth of the human ape, which is why Hitler’s rise to power was not prevented by the educated elite of Germany. Under torture, he reveals the whereabouts of his fiancee and her father, a betrayal that haunts him for the rest of his life. This is the reason he consents to go on television with Timothy, for he recognizes the same forces at work in the FLQ and the October Crisis of 1970. Not long before he is...

(The entire section is 586 words.)

Characters Discussed

(Great Characters in Literature)

John Wellfleet

John Wellfleet, the narrator, age seventy-six, a former hippie and teacher and the survivor of the “clean” bombs that destroyed civilization. During the rebuilding of Metro (Montreal), the Wellfleet-Dehmel papers are discovered, and André Gervais asks John Wellfleet to put them in order. The papers reveal the history of the twentieth century. Happy in his rediscovery of the past and his usefulness to a new generation, John dies in a cottage near the Gervais family.

André Gervais

André Gervais, a young French Canadian, discoverer of the papers, discoverer of John, and representative of the new generation eager to rebuild a civilization connected with the best the past can offer. He befriends Wellfleet, discovers his body, and narrates his death. Their friendship represents the renewed linking of the generations and the transmission of history and wisdom that results.

Timothy Wellfleet

Timothy Wellfleet, John’s older cousin, an advertising man and host of the 1970’s television show This Is Now. The child of divorced parents and shaped by the novel The Catcher in the Rye, Timothy rejects his conventional suburban life and family and his success in advertising for Esther Stahr and television. Apparently criticizing the capitalist system, his abrasive show is really a safety valve for it. Unprincipled showmanship leads Timothy falsely to accuse Dehmel of Nazism, an accusation that leads to Dehmel’s murder. When Timothy discovers that his show has been canceled and his victim is the husband of his foster mother, he becomes distraught and disappears.


(The entire section is 691 words.)