The Elixir of Life: Biblical Allusions to Water in American Literature


Jesus being baptized by John the Baptist

            American literature is rich with biblical illusions and Kate Chopin’s “The Awakening” is no exception. A significant element in both “John the Baptist” and “The Awakeningis water, which represents rebirth and cleansing through baptism. The act of immersing a person into water during baptism represents that the person is, from then on, buried in Christ. The person is then raised to their new life; the act of lifting a person from the water symbolically shows how the person will be bodily resurrected by Christ. In “John the Baptist” after Jesus is baptized the heavens were opened up to him. This is similar to Edna’s search for heaven, which she seeks from the vast uncharted sea. When she immerses herself into the water, Edna finally becomes free from the burdens of life. The sea is Edna’s escape and the beginning of her rebirth. Edna ends her life in the sea, but this act can also be viewed as a new beginning, or a rebirth, which is incomplete because she is not brought up from the water. The sea baptizes Edna just as John baptizes Jesus the Baptist. Water is an important element to many other works of American literature. Some examples are, “The Adventures of Huckleberry Finn”, “The Sun Also Rises”, and “The Great Gatsby.”

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