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Last Updated on July 16, 2019, by eNotes Editorial. Word Count: 325

Hugh MacLennan's Voices in Time takes place in dystopian Metro, formerly Montreal, Quebec, which is under the control of a repressive governmental entity known as the Bureaucracy. The novel follows the family history of John Wellfleet, an "inoperative" (resident of an elderly compound), as narrated by himself or directly from the physical records of his family history. The records depict the livelihood and trials that Conrad Dehmel, a renowned historian, had faced in his lifetime. Dehmel's story is central to the main narrative in addition to that of John's older cousin, Timothy Wellfleet.

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Dystopia as Foresight

One of the most prominent themes in the novel is the idea of foresight. As the story progresses, so do Dehmel's trials and tribulations surrounding the onset of World War II. Readers are able to form connections between the errors deriving from the way of life that was in existence during the World War II and post–World War II eras. The entirety of the novel is constructed as a means of forewarning MacLennan's readers, as it depicts society as a dystopia in the distant future, in addition to the preceding history that forms the basis for that future. Essentially, the moral degeneration of Western society will ultimately be its demise.

As is alluded to within MacLennan's text, political affairs concerning Western society have many dire ramifications that not only are readily apparent in the present but are also insidiously ruinous for society in the future. In addition, readers are filled with a sense of urgency, as the error of society's ways in the past are only wholly revealed to John and his companion, Andre Gervais, at a time when it is too late to many any significant change.

From the initial authoritarian regimes to the subsequent demoralization of the youth and elders alike in late twentieth-century North America, MacLennan forewarns his readers of the catastrophic path society is on and how it may soon be too late to change.

Themes and Meanings

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Last Updated on May 8, 2015, by eNotes Editorial. Word Count: 349

In some respects, Voices in Time is devoted to showing the public the error of its ways. The novel is structured in a way that records a variety of voices from the past, voices intended to help prevent or delay impending catastrophe. Underlying the conflicts in the novel is one that is common to many of MacLennan’s fictions: the Oedipal revolt of son against father. Timothy is in full revolt against his father, a former army officer. The main assignment on which he is working at the beginning of the story is an expose of one of his father’s oldest friends, a general at the...

(The entire section contains 674 words.)

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