Waterland - Men, Women and their Relationships

This is an essay I wrote on Tom Crick's portrayal of men, woman and their relationships. It is to inspire, inform and broaden perspective. It would be useless to copy and paste...

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Waterland by Graham Swift is a fictional novel written in the form of an autobiography. The
fictional character Tom Crick narrates the story, consisting of history (both existing and made up),
his past (his adolescence) and his very recent past and/or present. The reader experiences the story
through his eyes, from a point of view that is therefore inevitably biased. Many questions are raised
around this prospect ­ one of which is how this Tom Crick presents men, women and their
relationships. The reader can firstly see how men are seen by this man, and then how he sees
women and finally the relationships they have ­ with each other and otherwise.
Men are, as the story is told by a man, omnipresent throughout the whole of the novel. As the
narrator Tom Crick is, sadly, not a feminist, his view will not just be bisased to men but also in
favour of them ­ it is always important to try to discern fact from opinion. Even though this story is
fictional, one can not always be sure what really happens, as we are made to believe what Tom
Crick, whos judgement is all too often clouded, believes himself. For example, we are never sure
whether the baby Mary carries before her abortion is Tom's or Dick's because of Tom Crick's
uncertainty and jealousy and the way he tells the reader about it. Though he frequently compares life
itself to a narrative, and says that stories are, on one hand useless, on the other vital, he could be
suggesting that men cannot be trusted to tell these stories. He tells the reader from the start of how
his father had "had a knack for telling stories"p2, but of how his mother had gotten them "from
books as well as out of her head"p2. This does suggest a superiority of women over men in
storytelling ­ yet, even though this is what is insinuated, it is still a man who narrates the story.
Graham Swift, through Tom Crick, tells the reader of many male characters throughout History and
his story, dating back to Aristotle. But the first male character, chronologically, to be introduced with
real relevance to the plot is Josiah Atkinson. He, and all the male Atkinsons after him, are the
characters who provoke real change in the Fenlands ­ they are the characters who introduce
artificial inhancements to these previously mashy areas of England. But before building something,
one must have a plan, or a vision. Tom Crick tells of how Josiah Atkinson "had already concieved
another idea"p64, of how William Atkinson "dreamed that the Atkinsons would..."p667, he talks
about "these ideas which the Atkinsons cannot help concieving"p92. Men are presented as
visionaries of a sort, neither religious nor supernatural, who have perfectly rational visions for
improvent. It is their imagination and the prospect of financial gain that lead them to have these
visions and not a belief in something supernatural.
It is the ideas had for the adding to nature that have positive and expected outcomes. Josiah views
beer, and beer is made in abundance. William tells his son of drainage, and Thomas drains, to
amazing profits. Yet as soon as he reverts to religion at the insanityprovoking blow he delivers his
wife, the visions cease to be fulfilled ­ rain and floods come. George and Alfred have visions and
fulfil them, as well as Arthur. But Ernest, who believes that (the person who is possibly) his son,
potentially conceived through incest, is going to be the "saviour of the world"p213, who believes in
something supernatural, fails to become an MP, along with selling and wasting everything his
predecessors had built. Henry Crick wanted to see the world, and does. But Harold Metcalf, a

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Catholic, believer in the supernatural, visualises his daughter almost as an angel. This
angel is wilfully impregnated and painfully rendered barren through abortion, very unangel like.
Neither Ernest, Harold nor, by the end, Thomas get their visions fulfilled because they rely on or
believe in the supernatural.
The narration therefore suggests that men can only fulfil their goals when their motives are natural,
and that reliance on the supernatural brings men and their visions down.…read more

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The narrator Tom Crick places a lot of importance on women throughout the story he is telling.
Though the majority of important characters are in fact men, the occasional important characters
who are women end up having more importance than each of the main male characters. In the
chapter "About the Rise of the Atkinsons"p63, the description of each male heir takes up only about
a couple of pages.…read more

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It seems that woman visionaries, contrarily to men, must be linked with some supernatural element.
None of these women dream of some artificial addition to the land, with positive financial purposes
­ they have visions, from God, from some power, that come true. But where one can see a
consequence that applied both to men and women visionaries is that the outcome is never positive.
Sarah lives until her "ninetysecond birthday"p94 but consciously experiences less than the half of it.…read more

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As two main themes of Waterland are men and women, it is only natural, as they are not separated
physically, that there should also be the presence, if not the presence of the theme, of relationships.
It is a well known fact that an outstanding majority of relationships between men and women have
to do with sex. Every single sexual relationship in the book is one bound by nuptial law ­ every
single relationship (and there are quite a few) save two.…read more

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Sarah receives "a knock on the head"p103. After Tom and she have sex, Mary has
to deal with a painful primitive abortion.
This is what people get out of sexual relationships. There are positives and negatives, love and
hate. "The waters rise: the waters return"p103, these relationships are unstable, unpredictable. But
there is another kind of relationship to consider.
Religion is something humans have been practising all throughout history.…read more

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The setting in the book is also of vital
importance, and this is marked by the oxymoronical title of the book itself: Waterland.…read more


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