Water, water, every where,
Nor any drop to drink.
– “The Rime of the Ancient Mariner”
Water is everywhere–in fact, it’s so omnipresent that we often take it for granted. One place where we often forget its presence is in literature.
Take some of the famous works of literature, such as Huckleberry Finn and The Wizard of Oz. Have you ever thought about the role that water plays in each story?
In Huckleberry Finn, the Mississippi River is Jim’s ticket to freedom. Its steady flow connects a country deeply divided by the issue of slavery, an issue that divides Huck’s own mind. While those he respects most have told him that slaves are subhuman, Huck’s own experience shows him another, very different story. Jim has a deep love for his family, works to shield Huck from the harshness of his world, and is willing to risk everything to to live as a free man. Mark Twain uses Huck and Jim’s journey down the Mississippi to take us on a journey of our own, where we as well as Huck must decide what it means to be human.
Water plays a much different role in The Wizard of Oz. The story opens in a tired farm in Kansas where the ground is so dry that its lips have cracked open, desperate for water. In a few terrifying moments, a tornado carries a tiny girl named Dorothy, her dog, and her home to the mysterious land of Oz. A witch so wicked as to have her wickedness attached to her very name has intimidated the local population to the point that only an outsider can stand up to her. At this witch’s word, the perfume of beautiful flowers becomes deadly intoxicating, monkeys become flying assassins, and the Wizard himself melts like putty! Only an outsider, little Dorothy, can stand against her. While all Dorothy wants is to get home, she’s thrust into an adventure where her weapon is… that’s right: water! The film version of this classic story extends the story arc even further, showing rain coming to Dorothy’s farm–delivering her family from something even more evil than the Wicked Witch: the evil domination of drought!
The next time you’re reading a book or watching a movie, look for the role that water plays. You may be surprised at what you find!
Can you think of a common story where water plays a significant part?