Concluding Thoughts/ Connection to The Odyssey

Upon finishing The Time Traveler’s Wife, I must say I was left very upset with the position Niffenegger left Clare in. Referring to Homer’s epic, The Odyssey, Niffenegger includes an excerpt at the end of the novel:

” Now from his breast into his eyes the ache of longing mounted, and he wept at last, his dear wife, clear and faithful, in his arms,”

– The Odyssesy, Homer

This excerpt made me re-think my perception of Henry and Clare’s relationship. Originally, I made admired their strong bond, marveling over Clare’s stability and Henry’s devotedness. However, by the end of the novel I became frustrated by Henry’s unreliability- which causes Clare constant worry and heartache. Even after his death, almost fifty years later, Clare is still waiting for his in ” the room”, appearing as ” someone who is very tired” (535). Just as Penelope tirelessly protected Odysseus’ estate from the aggressive suitors in his absence, Clare bared the burden of holding the young DeTamble family together throughout Henry’s absences.

In the above quote, the description of Penelope as ” faithful” ( Homer) hints at Odysseus’ infidelity during his travels. Similarly, Henry spent the greater portion of his twenties involved with Ingrid, while Clare was left eagerly awaiting the day they would finally meet. During this time, Clare endured constant taunts from those around her of being a “dyke” (93). There is absolutely no argument that both  heroine’s highlight admirable characteristics of the ideal, ‘strong’ woman.

However, a key difference is that at the end of Homer’s epic, Penelope and Odysseus are reunited as he fights his way through the path of suitors. Finally, Penelope is able to rely on her husband for support and to provide for the family. The DeTambles face a far different fate, however, for Henry dies, and a grieving Clare must support young Alba all on her own. So my questions for thought are…


1. First of all, did you like the ending of the book? Why or Why not?

2. Did you think it was fair for Clare to be left ‘waiting’ after Henry’s death? Or do you think she ‘ had a choice’?


Personally, I was very upset by the dependent position Niffenegger left Clare in, but I can’t wait to hear what everyone else thinks!


3 thoughts on “Concluding Thoughts/ Connection to The Odyssey

  1. Obviously I couldn’t really “like” the ending because it made me so sad about the tragedy of the fates of both Clare and Henry and all those around them like their daughter Alba. I do agree with you that it seemed like Niffenegger was making Clare out to be some weak woman doomed to wait for her man the rest of her life. Clare always seemed so strong to me; able to keep going no matter her fears about where (and when) Henry was or when he would go/come back. She had to worry about regular life problems like friendships and work and taking care of her daughter while simultaneously dealing with such a rare and complex stressful situation with Henry. This made her seem like an empowered female character for me and yet at the end Niffenegger sort of deconstructed that when she displayed Clare as waiting patiently for her dead husband to return. Even though Henry told Clare to move on and be happy, he didn’t seem to really expect that of her and even told her to wait for him because he would be coming to see her at this date in the far future. He could have said his goodbyes and been sad, but enabled Clare to get over him and possibly move on. Yes, he will see her in the future, but if he had not told her then they would still meet and it would be a wonderful surprise, but in the meantime Clare could try and move on and live a normal life not just waiting for the day when she can see her dead husband after years of waiting for him. It wasn’t Henry’s fault, but he never had to wait for these meetings whereas Clare has to sit back and wait her entire life for him.

  2. For me, the ending of the book was utterly tragic, as I’m sure it was for everyone else, yet I do think that it was consistent with the message that the author was trying to convey through the story. Personally, I think we should give Clare a lot more credit. She definitely did move on with her life, as we see flashes of her raising Alba with love, care, and attention. In no way was she like a negligent parent like Richard DeTamble, who grieved blindly for Annette without a care for his young son. The only time we truly see her ‘waiting’ is when she is very old and has little more to do than wait. It’s only natural to yearn for one’s lover after an entire lifetime of separation. If Clare had been depicted as a younger woman still waiting heartbrokenly for Henry and neglecting her life and family, we could definitely have found fault in Niffenegger’s portrayal of her. By that time, however, she is all but finished with her life and her few remaining delights include the opportunity to see her husband once more before she dies.

    With that said, Clare did live a full and happy life. She wasn’t broken by Henry’s death and she seems to have taken to heart his words to ‘live fully in the present,’ which is the author’s ultimate message. To have her accomplish this and end the book with her as an old woman, waiting faithfully and patiently, was a bittersweet but, in my opinion, wholly appropriate conclusion.

  3. Pingback: The Odyssey Book 2: lines 96-102 | Original Literature Blog

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