Critically Examine Swift's Presentation Of Madness In Waterland

1323 words - 6 pages

Madness can be seen to be a state when someone experiences disorder in the mind, or more loosely, the state of mind when people do things that are bizarre and weird. In Waterland, Graham Swift presents madness through the characters Sarah and Ernest Atkinson, and Mary Crick, and while the experiences of Mary Crick seems to show the negative aspects of the state of madness, other incidents in Waterland appear to negate that, for being mad does not necessarily spell doom.

Firstly, Graham Swift presents madness as a result of Mary Crick’s way of coping with reality, the reality that it was through Tom and her actions that resulted in the death of Freddie Parr, Dick and their unborn child, ...view middle of the document...

What’s more, Mary was not “wearing the looks of a villainous child-thief...a vicious criminal”, but “wearing the looks of a young mother who’s never been a mother before”. The fact that Mary went to steal a baby from the supermarket shows that she is mad, and with Graham Swift providing a contrast of how she ought to look (as a criminal) and how she actually looks (as a mother) serves to accentuate Mary’s unstable mind. Furthermore, Mary continuously maintain that “God told me (her)” about the baby, even when Tom asks her many times. Hence from this development of Mary’s mental unsoundness, Graham Swift appears to show that escapism is not something good, for unlike Tom who tackles with his past, Mary becomes mad, and even breaks the law unknowingly.

However, madness might not be an altogether bad thing, because being mad seems to relief the person of the troubles he or she might be facing, the person is not caught up with whatever that’s happening, and there might even be hope for the person. This would be compared to the things a sane person has to handle; so in that sense, being mad might be something good for a person afterall. In Waterland, there were three characters who were described to be mad: Sarah Atkinson, Ernest Atkinson, and as mentioned above, Mary Crick. Sarah Atkinson “never again recovered her wits” after “having been struck” by Thomas Atkinson. With that, Thomas stopped his “unwarranted accusations and abuse” against Sarah, but instead treats her very well, trying all means to heal Sarah, from sending “for the services of one of those ancestors of Bill Clay” to “embark(ing)...on the study of the brain and the nervous system”. While Sarah does not notice anything that is going on, one can surmise that she was actually living a better life than before, even living to a bright old age of ninety-two, while her husband died around seventy, “wretched”.

In the case of Ernest Atkinson, he was utterly disillusioned with society, after they did not appreciate his plea, that “How civilisation...faced the greatest crisis of its history. How if no one took steps...an inferno” might take place. All these seemingly came true, with the “calamity arriv(ing)...across the sea in France, (with) the world (being) systematically construct(ed) a hell-on-earth”. Ernest tries “cling(s)...to some left-over fragment of paradise”, and slips into insanity, becoming “a worshiper of Beauty”, his “flesh-and-blood daughter”. This can be seen as a relief for Ernest, because he escapes the hopelessness and pessimism of humanity, as compared to the others who are clear in their mind, like Henry Crick, who “can’t forget what a mad place the...

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