"I liked to imagine the objection as a Borgesian fabulation: consider a person standing before the Book of Ages, the chronicle that records every event, past and future. Even though the text has been photo reduced from the full-sized edition, the volume is enormous . . . The Book of Ages cannot be wrong; this scenario is based on the premise that a person is given knowledge of the actual future, not of some possible future" (131).
In this passage, the novella's narrator Dr. Banks imagines a theoretical Book of Ages which she describes as "Borgesian" (referring to the author Jorge Luís Borges, who wrote "The Book of Sand," about a book with infinite pages). In this passage, the Book of Ages symbolizes knowledge of the future. Dr. Banks examines a hypothetical situation in which a person comes across this Book of Ages, in which all of history (past and future) is recorded, and reads it. The idea of the Book of Ages seems to contain a logical fallacy, because if someone could know what they are going to do, they could easily do something to prove the Book of Ages wrong. Dr. Banks solves this paradox, however, by asserting that the Book of Ages must never be read and that those who did read the Book of Ages would thereafter actively make choices that accord with what they know will happen in the future.
The Word For Kangaroo (Allegory)
"In 1770, Captain Cook's ship Endeavour ran aground on the coast of Queensland, Australia. While some of his men made repairs, Cook led an exploration party and met the aboriginal people. One of the sailors pointed to the animals that hopped around with their young riding in pouches, and asked an aborigine what they were called. The aborigine replied, 'Kanguru.' From then on Cook and his sailors referred to the animals by his word. It wasn't until later that they learned it meant 'What did you say?' . . . It's almost certainly untrue, and I explain that afterwards, but it's a classic anecdote" (99).
The story above is a humorous allegory for how difficult it is to learn a different language. In the story above, recent settlers in Australia mistake the aboriginal term for "what did you say" for the name of the animal "kanguru." Despite this, centuries later, we still call the animal they encountered in Australia a "kangaroo." As Dr. Banks explained, this story is not historically accurate; however, it functions as an allegory for how easily it is to encounter pitfalls when conducting field work. Confusion is inevitable, and linguists have to be careful about their early assumptions and drawing conclusions too quickly. In contrast to the settlers in Queensland, Dr. Banks takes care when studying the heptapod language and collaborates with other linguists to compile as much data as possible so that she can get as clear a picture of the language as possible.
Maid of Honor (allegory)
"When it comes to language-learning anecdotes, my favorite source is child language acquisition. I remember one afternoon when you are five years old, after you have come home from kindergarten. You'll be coloring with your crayons while I grade papers.
'Mom,' you'll say, using the carefully casual tone reserved for requesting a favor, 'can I ask you something?'
'Sure, sweetie. Go ahead.'
'Can I be, um, honored?'
I'll look up from the paper I'm grading. 'What do you mean?'
'At school Sharon said she got to be honored.'
'Really? Did she tell you what for?'
'It was when her big sister got married. She said only one person could be, honored, and she was it.'
'Ah, I see. You mean Sharon was maid of honor?'
'Yeah, that's it. Can I be made of honor?'" (100)
This anecdote acts as an allegory for language acquisition, like the allegory above. In this allegory, Dr. Banks is stressing how easily language learners can misunderstand terminology and semantics. In the anecdote, her child misunderstands the term "maid of honor" to mean "made of honor," mistaking the word "maid" for its homonym, "made." This allegory teaches the readers the potential areas for misunderstanding and mistakes when you are learning a new language, particularly a language where you have little background information on. New learners of a language, like children, have not had enough exposure to be able to pick up on every detail. Despite this, Dr. Banks has enough experience that she is able to understand word types and word tenses before she understands what exactly the word means. This allows her to compile large amounts of data, which gives her a more complete grasp of the language itself.
Story of Your Life Questions and Answers
The Question and Answer section for Story of Your Life is a great
resource to ask questions, find answers, and discuss the novel.