Time Symbolism Essay Example: The Knowers by Helen Philips

Imagine knowing your last day on this planet. It could be today, tomorrow, or within years. Yet no one knows when this day will come, until it happens. This is a matter of time. Time is an unstoppable force that controls the universe. It is the system of perpetual chronologies of events happening. In the short story, “The Knowers” by Helen Philips, the wife of an elderly couple knows the date of her death, April 17, 2043. As time passes, the couple dread and feared the day yet they knew that the day would eventually come. The wife regretted her decision of knowing the date of her death however, grateful once knowing. In “The Knowers”, Helen Philips uses time to symbolize the fate in which the wife of the elderly couple will die by using descriptive language, metaphors, and symbolism.


At the beginning of the story, the author uses descriptive language to show how the wife received the date of her death. It was described so vividly because it was a life-changing moment. From that day, she knew when her last day on the planet would be. The author purposely expressed this part in the story with great detail because it was a key scene that ultimately led the wife's regret. However, after knowing the date, she knew that there was no way to forget it, therefore, she could spare the time that she knew she had left. The words are used with a prominent meaning, for instance, “Tem would not know, today or ever, about the humming machine that looked like a low-budget ATM (could they really do no better?), about the chilly metal buttons of the keypad into which I punched my social security number after waiting in line for over forty-five minutes,” (Philips 2). This is emphasizing the description of when the wife received the piece of paper that delivered the date of her death. To make the scene more valuable or important, the author used descriptive language such as, “humming machine” or “chilly metal buttons”. 


As the story progresses, the author uses a metaphor to describe the trepidation of knowing the date of the wife's death. Having to hold the knowledge alone brings fear to her, something she will never forget, “April 17, 2043: a tattoo inside my brain.”(3). In this quote, it is stated as if the date will never be forgotten until the day it occurs. It was a fearful day discovering the date, leaving a scar in her mind. She knows that time is uncontrollable, therefore, as time passes, it is a fate to her death. The author uses the word “tattoo” to indicate to the reader that it will be impossible to forget. However, it was a decision that she chose that would create a significant impact in her life. Yet knowing this, she still took this action leaving herself in regret. A tattoo is a permanent marking, symbol, wording, or phrase made by the use of ink. Ink is not erasable, therefore, when a person chooses to get a tattoo, they know that it is not erasable. In this case, it was the wife's choice to get the “tattoo in her brain” knowing that it will not be erasable or forgettable. In addition, the tattoo is not literal, but the author used this word to show that it is like a tattoo but in one's mind. She regrets having the knowledge even though it was just a date on a piece of paper that could be easily destroyed, yet impossible to forget.


 As a result of the wife's regret in her unforgettable decision, the author symbolizes time as the fate of her death. The closer she got to the date, April 17, 2043, the more she dread and feared the day, “But I have to admit that December 31, 2042, was a fearful day for me,” (5). This quote is analyzing that as the year 2043 approached, she regretted knowing the knowledge and became more fearful for the day. Whereas, when it was the day she had received the piece of paper with the date of her death, that ultimately left a tattoo inside her brain, she knew that there was sometime before the day of her death. As time passed, the fear and dread of the day accumulated. On the other hand, knowing the day of her death was near, she could spare the time that she knew she had left. Death is something that remains unknown. A day that people know will come, however, not when. As a result, with the wife knowing her date of death, she can plan ahead and spare her time wisely. 

To sum it up, everyone must know that the fear of something dreadful, is only part of life, even when the fear results in something uncontrollable. In “The Knowers”, the wife of the elderly couple knows her date in which she will demise. As time passes, she feels more regretful of her decision to know her date of death, and more fearful of the day once it comes. Death is based on time, and time is uncontrollable. It is the system of perpetual chronologies of events happening. Therefore, when she knows the date of her death, she also feels grateful because she can spare the time that she has left, knowing that she can’t control it. In “The Knowers”, Helen Philips uses time to symbolize the fate in which the wife of the elderly couple will die.



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