The Power of Water

As we have seen throughout this class, water has been portrayed in several different ways— for example, it has been shown as a barrier, a necessity, and a danger. However, many times we have seen it portrayed as a powerful entity with negative connotations. For example, in “The World of Myth: An Anthology” and “The Swimming Pool” water acts as a danger to humankind and has the ability to harm people. “By the Water” by Sharyn Rothstein recounts the trama from Hurricane Sandy and its impact on life in Staten Island in particular. In the play, how is water portrayed, and what does it represent?

I will argue that water is portrayed as a menace to society, and it essentially represents power. Scene 1 opens with stage directions that describe the stage as “the ravaged remains of a house” (7). By using the word ravage, we immediately get a sense of the depth and seriousness of the destruction of the house from the hurricane. Furthermore, at the point in the play when Andrea gets frustrated with Marty, she describes the effects of the hurricane. As a result of the hurricane, she is left with nothing, not even a dish towel or spoon. She also explains how the water essentially destroyed “all those memories” (16). Thus, Andrea emphasizes the power of the water due to its ability to destroy everything she once had. This also shows the danger of water because it has harmed Andrea and her belongings both physically and mentally. Also, the prevalence of the hurricanes and the fact that they cannot be prevented show the power of the water. When Sal attempts to convince his parents to move, he says, “This is the second hurricane in two years. You stay here, you’ll have another one just like it to deal with” (11). Thus, Sal emphasizes the destructibility of hurricanes and their persistency. They are so strong and powerful that they cannot be avoided.

Rothstein also provides a strong visual representation of the power of the water. As a result of the hurricane, Andrea and Philip’s house was completely destroyed as they “had water right up to the ceiling” (18). This language evokes an image within the reader that represents the power of the water to overcome everything and fill up the entire house, washing everything away. Water also possesses a strong visual when Sal describes the hurricane as a “thirty-foot wave” (27). This image of a superior wave illustrates the domination of water and its overpowering effects.

Thus, Rothstein portrays water as a superior, dominating force that has the power to overcome society and affect humankind negatively, sometimes in ways that are life changing.

3 thoughts on “The Power of Water

  1. I agree with the premise of this claim that “water is portrayed as a menace to society” throughout the play of “By the Water” by Sharyn Rothstein. Water seems to always find a way to have negative outcomes on people’s lives. Water has reoccurred in most of the stories we have read in class as a theme that leads to the demise of most of the characters that we have encountered. Lexi does a fine job of finding insightful evidence to back up her central claim that the water encountered by the people of Staten Island is an enemy. Even though I agree with her central claim, I feel as though Marty is a character that makes me ponder if whether water is not only an enemy, but also an ally. Why does Marty not want to leave his house, which is near this supposed enemy, if it will lead to his demise?

    Even though everyone else in the family views the water as harmful, I believe that Marty associates the water with happiness. Marty has lived near the water his entire life and is used to the rough weather that is attributed with living near it. With the idea that Marty conveys the water as harmless and as something that will calm down as time passes, I believe that the water portrayed in “By the Water” is both a threat (through Lexi’s proof) and a safeguard to society. The idea that water is a safeguard is clearly displayed through the quote, “this is where we belong, Sal. This is where everyone knows us: We’re Marty and Mary Murphy. We have history here. Besides, we’ve survived storms like this before” (Rothstein, 12). Marty finds purpose and happiness near water. Water is a resource to Marty that allows him to feel a sense of dignity and pride for himself. When Marty says, “This is where everyone knows us: We’re Marty and Mary Murphy,” demonstrates that he even connects his own name to being near the water. He has lived near water his entire life and if he is away from this scenery, he will lose all his years of self-worth.

    Ultimately, Lexi’s post has crucial evidence to why water is a menace, but I believe this enemy cannot be attributed with everyone.

  2. Hi Lexi,
    I agree with your point that the water is a representation of power. In the novel By The Water, the characters suffered from the powerful flood brought by the Hurricane, and collides in every scene in order to think about new ways to live in their live (all scenes, page 5 – 53). The water is powerful in this theme, because the conflicts are created by the water.
    I interpret the power of water with another viewpoint: the destruction brings up by the water, is also the creation of new things. The families got new life, which can be observed at the ending of the story. Even after much suffering, the recognition and methods to carry on finally works.

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