Reclaiming Family Values

Maitri Patel '96 (Fall, 1992)

A major theme in Graham Swift's novel Waterland is reclamation. Tom Crick recognizes that much of his family has reclaimed many things that were lost due to nature. They tried to get the land back from the water, they tried to get their sanity back from the clutches of illness, they tried to get their chance at having a family back from terrible butchering, and they are trying to reclaim a right to a future from nuclear war. Another reclamation is that of marriage. The couples try to get back the stability and reliability that nature is taking away from them as the wives go insane.

Tom Crick, during one of his conversations (they are not really lectures) with his class, tells them gradually the story of Mary kidnapping the child from Safeway. Tom ends this discourse with an emotional plea to Mary to retrace their steps to more solid conjugal ground. "Mary, do you remember our Sunday walks, with which we trod and measured out the tenuous, reclaimed land of our marriage?" (111) Tom wants to recover the past, reclaim it so that they, as husband and wife, can have a proper, normal life together, minus all of the hospitals, psychiatrists, and treatment.

Another couple, perhaps the history that Tom and Mary are repeating, that try to reclaim marriage is Thomas and Sarah Atkinson. After Thomas cuffs Sarah for alleged unfaithfulness, an unfaithfulness that was never proved, only rumored, Sarah goes into a vegetable-like state, wrought with possibly severe brain damage after a lengthy comatose stage in a concussion. She suffers from insanity, evident from her screams of "Fire!" and such leaving behind Thomas Atkinson frantically regretful and remorseful because he has done this to his beloved and faithful wife Sarah.

He must experience the rushing relief and joy of seeing the lips part, the mouth flutter, only to suffer the re-doubled agony of knowing that though the eyes do not see him, or if they do, do not recognise him. And thought those lips move they will never again utter to Thomas Atkinson a single word. (66-67)

United Kingdom