Water and Rebirth in Literature


Jesus’ Baptism

Water is a very important literary motif that can represent many different things. However, one of its most significant connotations in literature is baptism and rebirth. In the Bible story about John the Baptist, the water motif symbolizes Jesus’ baptism by John the Baptist. The image to the left depicts this Bible story and further shows the prevalence of the water motif. The water motif is clearly present here because it runs through the middle of the picture and is also being poured onto Jesus’ head. The dove flying above Jesus symbolizes the Holy Spirit, which God sends down from Heaven after Jesus is baptized. The ray of light shining on Jesus is from Heaven and, along with the dove, reveals Jesus’ rebirth as “the son of God” (Luke 3.38). The water motif, just as it is used in the Bible story of Jesus’ baptism, is also used in The Scarlet Letter, The Awakening, and The Great Gatsby in order to represent rebirth. In The Scarlet Letter, a work of literary romanticism, Hester Prynne throws the scarlet letter towards the water’s edge and “with a hand’s breadth farther flight it would have fallen into the water” (536). When Hester is rid of the scarlet letter, she feels the “burden of shame and anguish [depart] from her spirit” (536), she feels “freedom” (536), and “as with a sudden smile of heaven, forth burst the sunshine” (536), just like when Jesus gets baptized and the heavens open up above him. In this scene, the water acts as a threshold and shows how Hester is so close to being fully reborn; however, she cannot completely escape the symbol of her sin. In The Awakening, a work of realism, the water motif in the form of rebirth is apparent when Edna stands naked on the beach and feels “like some new-born creature” (638). “The waves . . . invited her” (638) to be reborn as a free being who escapes being “chained” (639) to her old life through death. In The Great Gatsby, a work of literary modernism, Gatsby spends the summer yachting on Lake Superior and around the world with Dan Cody. The water motif is present here because Lake Superior, in a way, baptizes “James Gatz” (98) and causes him to be reborn as “Jay Gatsby” (98), “a son of God” (98). The element of rebirth in literature usually corresponds with the water motif because of the Bible story when Jesus is baptized by John the Baptist and is reborn in the eyes of God.



This entry was posted in AP Mindset, Biblical Allusions 2018. Bookmark the permalink.

1 Response to Water and Rebirth in Literature

  1. carrielauriasheehan says:

    I think that the use of quotes in your post helps to show how concrete the examples of your motif are. I feel like I really understand how you connected the motif to the works of literary merit and the quotes played a large role in that.
    Why did you choose to title your blog post Baptismal Water and Rebirth and not something different?
    I felt like the beginning was a little bit choppy and hard to follow, so I would consider looking back at it and changing some of the wording and structure to make it flow a little bit better. Overall, I thought that your post was really good.

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