Waterland by Graham Swift Essay

Waterland by Graham Swift Essay

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History is the study of past events. In his novel Waterland, Graham Swift entwines the past with the present to create a cyclical rhythm, which flows through the narrative. The narrative explores the notion of temporality and explains that instead of time following a linear pattern, it is, in fact, a circle, which moves in into itself, representing the past, the present, and the future. Chapters often end in the middle of a sentence, then picked up at the beginning of the following chapter, suggesting not only the continuity of the story, but the course of history. This style reinforces the content of Waterland and embodies the theme of history being continuous. Waterland features a history teacher and narrator, Tom Crick, who has been urged to take an early retirement on account of his wife stealing a baby from Safeway, after god told her to (15). To try to understand the present, Tom takes a look into his past and decides to use his experiences as a history lesson, and instead of using the syllabus completely, he begins telling his class—his-story. He does not believe in progression, man takes “one step forward, one step back” throughout history. Through Tom’s personal stories and the juxtaposition of the historical facts, the reader infers that the narrative of Waterland believes that history travels in circles.
Swift uses specific symbols to also represent the cycle by which things occur in nature. At the center of the novel lies a river called the Ouse, which reinforces the circular movement of history. When the narrator describes the flow of the Ouse River he says, “So that while the Ouse flows to the sea, it flows in reality, like all rivers, only back to itself, to its own source; and that impression that a riv...


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...-linear. What happens in the past does not stay in the past. Water comes back when land is reclaimed, eels reproduce via a circular journey, traits of parents are transferred to their children, and decisions affect the future. Throughout the novel, Tom explains how history “goes backwards as it goes forward. It loops. It takes detours,” and it does the same with his style of his narrative (155). The stories communicated by Tom shows how, “[History] repeats itself, how it goes back on itself, no matter how we try to straighten it out. How it twists and turns. How it goes in circles and brings us back to the same place” (162). The narrative embodies the circular progression of time showing that history is never gone, but rather, it manifests itself in the present and somehow repeats.






Works Cited

Swift, Graham. Waterland. New York: Vintage, 1992. Epub.

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