How does Dr. Banks acquire knowledge of the future?
Dr. Banks, a linguist, is assigned the task of deciphering the hetpapod language and learning it in order to facilitate communication between the humans and the aliens. In doing so, she discovers that there is a difference between the spoken language (Heptapod A) and the written language (Heptapod B): the latter includes no sense of chronological direction. This freedom from time reflects the state of the heptapods’ minds: they are unbound by time, seeing the past, present, and future simultaneously.
When Dr. Banks becomes fluent in Heptapod B, it begins to rewire her brain to think like the heptapods do. By training her brain to think in Heptapod B, Dr. Banks unwittingly changes the framework of her mind, allowing it to operate in the same way as the heptapods with respect to time. She therefore becomes able to see the future in the same way as she might a memory of the past, erasing the distinction between the two.
How does Chiang effectively portray a new perspective in the novella?
The major important element of the heptapods’ perspective is seeing beyond the “illusion” of the distinction between past, present, and future, creating a somewhat cyclical view of time. Chiang writes this transcendent perspective into the very structure of the novella: the opening scene (Dr. Banks and Dr. Donnelly alone, about to conceive their daughter) is the same as the last scene, taking place at the same moment, with every other scene in the novella taking place either in the past or in the future. In this sense, the beginning of the story is the end, which is actually chronologically in the middle, wedged between past and future. This nonlinear chronology skillfully reflects the main point of the novella, making the work of art itself into a palindrome, a chiastic structure that parallels Dr. Banks's new frame of mind about time and the universe.
Does Dr. Banks have free will at the end of "Story of Your Life"?
At the end of "Story of Your Life," Dr. Banks explains that her worldview is a mixture of human and heptapod: "Even though I'm proficient with Heptapod B, I know I don't experience reality the way a heptapod does. My mind was cast in the mold of human, sequential languages, and no amount of immersion in an alien language can completely reshape it. My worldview is an amalgam of human and heptapod" (140). She also emphasizes that the meaning of "free will" depends on context—heptapods do not understand "free will" in the same way as humans. In fact, when you are seeing the world through a simultaneous mode of consciousness, the concepts of "free will" or "coercion" are meaningless. Because of this mixture of perspectives, Dr. Banks has some free will at the end of "Story of Your Life;" however, because she knows the future and will never act contrary to human purposes, this concept means something different than it does for ordinary humans.