Time's Arrow by Martin Amis Essay

Time's Arrow by Martin Amis Essay

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Time's Arrow by Martin Amis

The human being is an analytical creature. From scientists to philosophers to star-crossed teenaged lovers, the human is internally motivated to understand the world around him. That world provides countless puzzles for the human to solve, whether these puzzles lie in the forests of the heart, the laws of mathematics or the annals of history. However, some of the most unfathomable aspects of this world have been entirely created by humans. The Holocaust is one of the most unfathomable events in human history. Countless documentaries, pieces of literature, psychological analyses and films have explored the topic in an attempt to understand exactly how humans could commit such terrible atrocities against one another. Time’s Arrow, by Martin Amis, initially attempts to answer this question by exploring the life of a Nazi doctor. To do this, he separates the narrator’s consciousness from his mind, re-living his life backwards. In doing so, Amis tries to reverse the laws of entropy, to heal by un-creating human destruction. However, as the narrator (the doctor’s consciousness) eventually finds, reversing time’s arrow does not make the Holocaust fathomable. Therefore, in Time’s Arrow, Martin Amis suggests that humans will always manage to increase entropy, despite the reversal of time and the laws of the physical world.

The term “entropy” describes a “measure of disorder or randomness in an isolated system” (Dictionary.com). According to the Second Law of Thermodynamics, the entropy of an isolated system will always increase over time. Therefore, disorder and randomness are constantly increasing. Amis drew from both this law and the work of the physicist A.S. Eddington in writing T...

... middle of paper ...

... undo the chaos that we had created.

Yet in Time’s Arrow, entropy is not just never truly reduced, it is ultimately increased. Thus, Amis argues that entropy’s effect on humanity is an inherently human creation. We create our own misery, our own disorder, our own chaos, regardless of the physical laws and the direction in which time is flowing. Therefore, in Time’s Arrow Amis suggests that humans are inherently entropic creatures, so much so that entropy as it pertains to us is less of a physical property, and more of a human characteristic.


Amis, Martin. Time’s Arrow. London: Vintage, Random House, 1991.

“Entropy.” Dictionary.com. 2004 http://dictionary.reference.com/search?q=entropy

Menke, Richard. “Narrative Reversals and the Thermodynamics of History in Martin Amis’s Time’s Arrow.” Modern Fiction Studies 44.4 (1998) 959-980.

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