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How to Read Literature Like a Professor: If She Comes Up, It's Baptism

Insights into the symbolism behind drownings and near drownings in literature.

connor ormond

on 10 January 2013

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Transcript of How to Read Literature Like a Professor: If She Comes Up, It's Baptism

If She Comes Up, It's Baptism It's More than just water Examples: Rebirth and death Baptism: The spiritual side Examples: Baptism Water, specifically standing water, has great significance in literature. Characters are submerged and resurface as new people, they are reborn. Others drown and they die, but this is significant as well.
Foster notes that when characters get wet , its time to start paying attention. Water has a distinctive role in literature. Sometimes it's just water, but when characters become submersed it can mean more than they are just getting wet. Foster argues that writers employ lakes and water as a symbol of rebirth for the character, if he/she survives that is. Death by drowning is significant as well because it can symbolize that characters struggle in life. Foster cites the film Ordinary people (1976) by Judith Guest, in which two brothers are caught in a storm on a boat and one of them drowns. The surviving brother is, ironically, the weaker of the two and should have died while the other survives. The younger brother struggles with his new life because he doesn't think he should be alive. In this way the younger brother has been reborn, he is "alive all over again" he is not the same person as he was before the storm.

When characters enter the water, there
is sometimes a religious connection.
Baptisms are a spiritual cleansing, and
many characters who enter the water are cleansed in the same symbolic fashion.
Generally when writers baptize a character
they mean death of the old character, rebirth and new identity, usually for the better.

In song of Solomon by Toni Morrison the protagonist Milkman Dead gets wet three times, which symbolizes the three immersions of baptism, once for the father, then the son, then thrice for the holy ghost. He becomes a better man over the course of these three immersions.

Drowning has significance in baptisms as well.
In The River by Flannery O' Connor, a little boy goes down by the river where he saw people getting baptized, and in an attempt to connect with god, he drowns. Foster points that he did find god after all.

Conclusion How to Read Literature Like a Professor As for drowning there is a novel called Love Medicine by Louise Erdrich where a Vietnam war veteran, unable to assimilate into the regular world, drowns himself in a river. Foster argues that his drowning was significant because it symbolizes how he was drowning in real life. As well, He elected to go in, so his suicide relfleted his need to exert some control over his life, in his mode of death.
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