History in Waterland

Tom Baker '94 (English 34, 1993)

Many theories attempt to explain the role of history in Waterland. The "History, His Story..." link offers several explanations of history. Perhaps the most strongly supported theory of history in the novel, that history functions as a defense against fear, invades many of the narrator's thoughts on the subject. For example, in the narrator's class on the guillotine, he reveals to the children that he understands their fear, their terror that "all is nothing", and thus he slips into telling the story of the East Wind. His drunken conversation with Price reveals Tom Crick's thoughts to the reader. "It helps to drive out fear. I don't care what you call it- explaining, evading the facts, making up meanings, taking a larger view, putting things into perspective, dodging the here and now, education, history, fairy tales,- it helps to eliminate fear"(p. 241). The unimportance of history and the vitality of the present constitute another theory of history's role in the novel. The schoolboy Price most strongly supports this idea. Only the here and now matters. History is nothing but explaining; "a way of avoiding the facts while you pretend to get near them"(p. 167). The narrator has also had these feelings as a youth with Mary, before their fall into time initiated by a murder. The idea of history as reality also permeates the work. For the narrator, although history served many purposes in his life, it is now the story of his and his family's life in the Fenland. History functions for Tom Crick as a means of explaining the events of his life so the present "here and now" will make sense to him.

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