Feminism and Water Imagery in Literature: Background information when reading Tides

Summary |  Excerpt |  Reviews |  Beyond the Book |  Readalikes |  Genres & Themes |  Author Bio


by Sara Freeman

Tides by Sara Freeman X
Tides by Sara Freeman
  • Critics' Opinion:

    Readers' Opinion:

  • First Published:
    Jan 2022, 256 pages

    Jan 2023, 256 pages


  • Rate this book

Book Reviewed by:
Tasneem Pocketwala
Buy This Book

About this Book

Feminism and Water Imagery in Literature

This article relates to Tides

Print Review

Feminism and water imagery books (top to bottom): Margaret Atwood's Surfacing, Toni Morrison's Beloved, Kate Chopin's The Awakening, Arundhati Roy's The God of Small Things In Sara Freeman's debut novel Tides, after undergoing a harrowing loss, the protagonist Mara takes to the road, leaving everything and everyone she loves behind. She doesn't know where she will go, but if asked, she knows she will say, "without hesitation, [t]he sea." She is drawn to a town — any town — by the sea because her mother hails from such a place. For Mara, the sea is the origin point of her "self."

According to literary theorist Dr. Viola Parente-Čapková, in many cultures, water "has been traditionally connected with life, birth and re-birth, creation and creativity, but also with death and oblivion." In literature, water appears as a vital life force to be reckoned with (such as in Homer's Odyssey); as an element that facilitates a renewed, free life (as in The Adventures of Huckleberry Finn by Mark Twain); or as an agent that cleanses, clarifies and purifies, a notion explored in the Bible in addition to many other texts.

Water is also used symbolically as a life-giving resource, both because it is essential to human life and because of the womb's amniotic fluid. But when these conventional, even orthodox ideas linking water and femininity are subverted and repurposed in books, especially those written by women, one often finds a feminist approach to the healing, creative and rebirthing properties of water. Literature of this kind deploys water imagery to garner a distinct, rich feminist meaning.

Take for instance Kate Chopin's novel The Awakening. Trapped in domesticity and patriarchal notions of womanhood, the protagonist Edna's gateway to a renewed self is through the water. Her "awakening" occurs when she is at the beach, where she realizes she can be more than just a wife and mother. Edna drowns at the end of the novel, but her death in the water represents a rejection of, and freedom from, these stifling normative roles.

A kind of transformation through water occurs for the unnamed narrator in Margaret Atwood's Surfacing as well. On the search for her missing father near his cabin, the narrator takes a solo dive into a pool. The contact with deep water allows her unconscious self to surface, ready for a reconnection, thereby making way for a metamorphosis, or a kind of rebirth.

Water and water imagery have also been used to suggest boundaries. But in feminist interpretations, these boundaries may represent structures that are ultimately transgressed. In Arundhati Roy's The God of Small Things, the mother of twins Rahel and Estha crosses the river to meet her lover Velutha, whom she as an upper caste woman is not even supposed to touch. In Toni Morrison's Beloved, meanwhile, the crossing of the Ohio River signifies freedom for Sethe, in a literal sense from enslavement, but also from a horrible act she committed. It is opportune and poignant that the embodiment of that horrible act actually emerges from the water as well, in the form of the adolescent Beloved.

These interpretations stand in stark contrast with the "Lady of the Lake" motif, an established device in classic literature. This theme depicts beautiful, mad women, who are dead or dying in some way relating to water. Self-sacrificing, suicidal ladies such as Hamlet's Ophelia and Alfred Lord Tennyson's "Lady of Shallot" symbolize purity, innocence and male devotion, and are hardly ever given agency of their own.

Filed under Reading Lists

This "beyond the book article" relates to Tides. It originally ran in February 2022 and has been updated for the January 2023 paperback edition. Go to magazine.

This review is available to non-members for a limited time. For full access become a member today.
Membership Advantages
  • Reviews
  • "Beyond the Book" articles
  • Free books to read and review (US only)
  • Find books by time period, setting & theme
  • Read-alike suggestions by book and author
  • Book club discussions
  • and much more!
  • Just $45 for 12 months or $15 for 3 months.
  • More about membership!

Become a Member

Join BookBrowse today to start discovering exceptional books!

Find out more

Top Picks

  • Book Jacket: A Mystery of Mysteries
    A Mystery of Mysteries
    by Mark Dawidziak
    Edgar Allan Poe biographers have an advantage over other writers because they don't have to come up ...
  • Book Jacket: Moonrise Over New Jessup
    Moonrise Over New Jessup
    by Jamila Minnicks
    Jamila Minnicks' debut novel Moonrise Over New Jessup received the PEN/Bellwether Prize for Socially...
  • Book Jacket
    The Magician's Daughter
    by H.G. Parry
    "Magic isn't there to be hoarded like dragon's treasure. Magic is kind. It comes into ...
  • Book Jacket: The Great Displacement
    The Great Displacement
    by Jake Bittle
    On August 4, 2021, California's largest single wildfire to date torched through the small mountain ...

Book Club Discussion

Book Jacket
The Nurse's Secret
by Amanda Skenandore
A fascinating historical novel based on the little-known story of America's first nursing school.

Members Recommend

  • Book Jacket

    The Lost English Girl
    by Julia Kelly

    A story of love, betrayal, and motherhood set against the backdrop of World War II and the early 1960s.

  • Book Jacket

    The Last Russian Doll
    by Kristen Loesch

    A haunting epic of betrayal, revenge, and redemption following three generations of Russian women.

Who Said...

A library is a temple unabridged with priceless treasure...

Click Here to find out who said this, as well as discovering other famous literary quotes!


Solve this clue:

R Peter T P P

and be entered to win..

Your guide toexceptional          books

BookBrowse seeks out and recommends the best in contemporary fiction and nonfiction—books that not only engage and entertain but also deepen our understanding of ourselves and the world around us.