Water and Rebirth in American Literature

In the Bible, water is a powerful and symbolic image in the stories told. Water represents the power of God and the significance it has in the people’s lives. Another common theme in the Bible is the significance of water regarding rebirth, cleansing, and the washing away of sins. This is revealed in Genesis, chapters 6-9, with the story of Noah’s Ark. After God sends the flood, the earth becomes a lively and new place filled with peace. It is calm and new. The symbolic nature of water represents the power of God through spiritual need, dependency, cleansing and rebirth. This Biblical motif is represented in many modern American Literature texts. In Kate Chopin’s The Awakening, the water symbolizes Edna’s psychological awakening and the freedom that she receives in the water at the end of the novel. She drowns in the sea and this represents her awakening and rebirth into a new life. Edna is drawn to the sea and this represents the power of the water in this novel. Edna fears the water in the beginning and does not want to encounter it, yet at the end of the novel, she has a strong desire to swim and never return, allowing for the water to provide her with a sense of rebirth and new life as well as power. Edna’s mood towards the water transitions from “never been[ing] able to swim, and Robert [trying] all summer to teach her; but she was always strangely afraid” to having “A feeling of exultation overt[ake] her, as if some power of significant import had been given her to control the working of her body and her soul.” The water reveals how Edna wants to start over and wash away her past in hopes for rebirth. She wants to swim where no woman has swum before and start a new life, and the water gives her the power to do so. In Mark Twain’s The Adventures of Huckleberry Finn, Twain illustrates the Mississippi River as a symbol of freedom in Huck’s life. Huck uses the water to escape his abusive father and the restrictive life he lives. The river brings Huck to a new life of freedom, which shows how it symbolizes washing away his past and providing a rebirth into a freer life. Huck says, “So in two seconds away we went a-sliding down the river, and it did seem so good to be free again and all by ourselves on the big river, and nobody to bother us.” Huck reveals how the water makes him feel free and brings him to a new life of freedom. The symbol of water originally found in the Bible helps further the themes of freedom and rebirth in American Literature texts. This Renaissance painting of Noah’s Ark represents the way water creates new life and allows for rebirth. After the flood, the earth becomes a peaceful and vibrant place. In both American Literature texts, the characters use water to experience rebirth and new life. Both Edna and Huck have the opportunity to live a more peaceful and positive life through their interactions with water. This image represents life on earth after the flood. The flood God sends allows for the survivors to reexamine life and choose to start over. The earth develops after the flood and becomes calm and pure. Noah’s Ark consisted of one of every living creature on earth at the time of the flood. God sends the flood out of anger and what emerges is a new earth. The creatures are ready to start again and become the world God wants. God tells Noah and the other creatures to “be fruitful, and multiply, and replenish the earth” which proves that after the flood, God is satisfied with the new way the creatures will develop the earth and the flood represents washing away the past and rebirth into a new life and world.

Michelangelo’s rendition of Noah’s Ark.
This entry was posted in AP Mindset, Biblical Allusions. Bookmark the permalink.

1 Response to Water and Rebirth in American Literature

  1. sohishah says:

    I really enjoyed this blog post. It was enlightening to see the impact of the Bible on modern works of literature. I liked the different examples used to explain this biblical motif. The image of the arc truly helps in the understanding of this motif. I think this inclusion of media was a nice addition to the post and added to the work as a whole. This argument was very well developed. Although the transitions to the different examples could be improved, this was an overall informative post.

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