Einstein's Dreams | Study Guide

Alan Lightman

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Course Hero. "Einstein's Dreams Study Guide." Course Hero. 30 Mar. 2017. Web. 14 Nov. 2018. <https://www.coursehero.com/lit/Einsteins-Dreams/>.

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Course Hero. (2017, March 30). Einstein's Dreams Study Guide. In Course Hero. Retrieved November 14, 2018, from https://www.coursehero.com/lit/Einsteins-Dreams/

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(Course Hero, 2017)



Course Hero. "Einstein's Dreams Study Guide." March 30, 2017. Accessed November 14, 2018. https://www.coursehero.com/lit/Einsteins-Dreams/.


Course Hero, "Einstein's Dreams Study Guide," March 30, 2017, accessed November 14, 2018, https://www.coursehero.com/lit/Einsteins-Dreams/.

Einstein's Dreams | Plot Summary

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Einstein's Dreams features the fictional dreams of the real-life scientist Albert Einstein during the year he developed his theory of time. The Prologue introduces him as a young man who works in a patent office; he is asleep at his desk before dawn, having stayed up most of the night working. From here the novel becomes a series of dream vignettes, each from a different day that spans from April 14, 1905, to June 28, 1905. Each dream world presents a different, unique concept of time, and each world is inhabited by nameless Dream Figures whose lives are depicted as they cope with the structures and limits of time.

Although the setting and structure of time vary from dream to dream, the characters and depictions of life grow recognizable and familiar. Even though time can flow backward, or loop in a circle, or become stuck, the characters are held together through their common quest for meaning, connection, and a sense of control over their fate. Paradoxes abound, as do the differing, opposing ways the Dream Figures of each world choose to deal with time. Lightman takes great care to show humanity's connection to time and how it affects their relationships with other people as well as their relationships with the past, present, and future. Some recurring motifs and themes emerge in Einstein's dreams: people trying to manipulate time in ways that only make them unhappy; people trying to understand the limitations of free will; and people trying to become unstuck from their past memories. Through these dreams Lightman shows the common threads of humanity's anxieties, hopes, and fears.

Interludes interspersed throughout the novel, like the dream vignettes, don't adhere to any kind of chronological consistency. The Interludes provide the only glimpses of Albert Einstein other than those provided in the Prologue and Epilogue, and they appear primarily through the lens of Einstein's good friend Michele Besso. Besso depicts Einstein as brilliant, distracted, and aloof, but the two share an emotional bond. Besso also shows Einstein as rather disconnected from his wife and family, wondering why Einstein got married in the first place. Despite their closeness Einstein hesitates to reveal his dreams to Besso, though he reveals his work on time is an effort to become closer to God.

The novel's Epilogue finds Einstein on the same morning as the Prologue, still in his patent office, exhausted but ready to have a secretary type up his theory of time. Yet rather than feeling pleased or fulfilled by his completed work, Einstein feels empty and vaguely dissatisfied. It seems his work has brought him no closer to God. Einstein's brilliant and vivid dreams have influenced his scientific work only subconsciously—though clearly powerfully.

Einstein's Dreams Plot Diagram

ClimaxFalling ActionRising ActionIntroductionResolution2134675


1 Albert Einstein dreams about time in different worlds.

Rising Action

2 Einstein and Michele Besso discuss Einstein's theories.

3 Einstein's time dreams grow theoretical and complicated.

4 Besso begins to worry about Einstein's health.


5 Einstein's dreams continue.

Falling Action

6 Besso and Einstein go fishing.


7 Einstein finishes his theory of time at his patent office.

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