Peter Carey and Graham Swift use imagery of glass and water to illustrate human sexuality and love relationships. In Swift's Waterland, scenes of swimming and water immersion serve to unveil Dick's sexuality and "rawness" of his character:
Can it be that Dick's purpose in diving was expressly to suppress this rebel rod of flesh? ...So that, even now, twisting strands of Dick's congealed seed are floating down towards the Leem, where they will surely float to the Ouse and thence to the sea. (190-191)
The image of Dick's "congealed seed" floating down the river intensifies the life creating power of water in Swift's Waterland. Constantly immersing himself in water, Dick is the embodiment of human sexuality. More importantly, as the product of an incestuous relationship, Dick is the embodiment of sinful human sexuality. Dick's infatuation with swimming functions as a figurative escape to the waters of the womb, returning to the origin of birth and innocence. As the manifestation of his parents' sin, Dick escapes to the waters as a means of figurative self-cleansing and purification.
Whereas Swift uses water imagery to illustrate the nature of human sexuality, Carey uses glass imagery to specifically reveal the nature of love between Oscar and Lucinda. In Carey's novel, the Prince Rupert drop serves as the "congealed glass seed" which grows into the glass church, the embodiment of love between male and female protagonists:
All their emotions were fused together in this glass vision in which they saw that which cannot be seen — wonder, joy, the transparent traceries of angels dancing. (324)
It was this bee in the box, the Big Bet, the glass bet, which gave the days their excruciating tension, their lovely current, the nights their lightness, expectation. They did not kiss or hold hands. The bet gave them a future which they stretched towards. (334)
Figuratively uniting the religious passion of Oscar with the glass dreams of Lucinda, the glass church operates as a physical monument to the spiritual love and moral connection between them. Oscar's persistence in carrying the glass church to Bellinger (a "vessel of light") demonstrates his insistence on winning Lucinda's love, his Lady Luce, creature of light. By the end of the novel, however, the double nature of glass reveals itself and the glass church becomes not only a symbol of Oscar's love for Lucinda but the site of his sexual betrayal (his affair with Miriam Chadwick)
Oscar had forgotten himself. He was sick at heart, preoccupied by what he had lost, not gained. All he could think was that the glass church was the devil's work, that it had been the agent of murder and fornication. (424)
By the end of Carey's novel, the glass church has clearly become a symbol of both love and sin. Fusing the dual nature of the glass church with the destructive and cleansing properties of water, the aquatic immersion of the glass church symbolizes the destruction of Oscar's love for Lucinda and the purification of his sin with Miriam Chadwick.
- Glass and Water: Symbolic Imagery in Oscar and Lucinda and Waterland — an Introduction
- Glass and Water, Creation and Destruction
- Glass and Water: Progress, Power, and the Weakness of of Empire