What Does Water Symbolism Mean in Literary Works?

Water frequently stands for purification, life, and liberation. However, water is a contextual symbol in literature, which means that, depending on how it is utilised in a story or poem, it can symbolise a variety of things.

The precise symbolism frequently depends on the kind of water being used. For instance, rivers frequently symbolise the flow of life because they are always moving and follow a specific course.

The Literary Importance of Water

Water is often used as a literary allegory for elegance, ease, and fluidity. Due of its constant stream, it could also be seen as a representation of a motivating power. Water comes in a variety of forms, each with its own significance.

For instance, a swift river frequently represents fortitude and concentration. Additionally, literary critics have noted throughout history that water, particularly river water, frequently denotes both rebirth and healing.

What are some typical associations in well-known literary works, then? Following are some classic instances of water symbolism:

Herman Melville’s Moby Dick is one of the works of literature with the most frequent usage of water symbolism. Ishmael crews for Captain Ahab on a whaling ship in this timeless tale. The sea represents the unpredictability of Ishmael’s trip and how it alters him forever.

As the elderly fisherman is able to catch fish once again after being pulled into the sea in Ernest Hemingway’s novel The Old Man and the Sea, water represents rebirth.

The Tide Rises, The Tide Falls in According to H.W. Longfellow, water represents fluidity; just as the tide rises and falls, so does time.

Last but not least, William Shakespeare frequently employed water as a symbol of purification; in Macbeth, Lady Macbeth frantically tries to wipe away an unseen bloodstain in an effort to absolve herself of guilt.

Water, according to Leonardo da Vinci, “is the driving power in nature.” The life within us is like the water in a river, as Henry David Thoreau once said. This year, it might rise higher than anyone has ever seen it, flooding the dry uplands; it might even be the memorable year that drowns out all of our muskrats.

Water’s Symbolic Meaning

In most religious traditions, water is a revered symbol that frequently connotes purity, rebirth, and fertility. Stories in the Bible concerning transformation and cleaning serve to emphasise the significance of water as a spiritual and material reality.

Muslims utilise water to cleanse their spirits and get ready for daily prayers, whereas Jewish tradition asks for people to take a bath on special occasions to purify their spirits.

Water is said to have healing properties in the Eastern Orthodox Christian faith, whereas Taoism sees water as an agent of enlightenment because of its capacity to flow through any impediments. Last but not least, due in part to its diverse forms, the pagans of ancient Greece viewed water as a symbol of change and metamorphosis.

Astrology uses the water symbol as well, with Pisces, Cancer, and Scorpio all being water signs. However, each of these signs has unique characteristics despite being connected by the element of water. For instance, Pisces is connected to depth and creativity, while Scorpio is said to be mysterious and Cancer is associated with purity.

Images of water

In works, the representation of water is frequently employed to highlight a point. For instance, Margaret Atwood frequently uses the metaphor of water flowing forward despite obstacles in her novel The Penelopiad. Everything it does is motivated by it, and maybe more importantly, it never gives up.

Water is patient, and Atwood continues by reminding the reader that they share half of water’s strength. Stones are worn away by water that drips. My child, keep it in mind. Recall that you are partially water. Go around a barrier if you can’t get through it. Water works.

It’s interesting to note that Hermann Hesse uses a similar metaphor in Siddhartha by comparing the river to the present’s unending flow. He observes that the river is everywhere and that it is only concerned with the present and has no interest in the past or the future.

That the river “is everywhere at once, at the source and at the mouth, at the waterfall, at the ferry, at the current, in the ocean and in the mountains, everywhere, and that the present alone exists for it, not the shadow of the past nor the shadow of the future” is what Hesse claims.

Life and death signs

Water is a life-giving substance, as we are all aware. It energises, refreshes, and purifies us. However, it also possesses a great power that could be harmful. Water is necessary for life, yet it can also cause drowning.

In Moonglass, Jessi Kirby uses the analogy between water and a character’s conflicted feelings to produce intriguing visuals. The character then deduces that her mother’s death was a result of her own emotions becoming too much for her to handle – a sort of metaphorical drowning. I once read that water is a symbol for emotions, says Kirby. And for a while I believed my mother might have perished in both.

More particular, the ocean or water may pose unforeseen, occasionally dangerous, difficulties. The ocean can be turbulent or deadly at times, as depicted in flood legends from Gilgamesh to Noah’s Ark. The argument is that a skull, a scythe, or an unlit candle are not necessary indicators of death; death can occur in many other ways.

Water, however, is a significant literary symbol that can be understood in a variety of ways. Additionally, given the diversity of forms that water may take, this seems like a fitting emblem in and of itself.


Please enter your comment!
Please enter your name here

Read More