This is the End

Dwight Kwa '96 (English 32, 1992)

Children, there's this thing called civilisation... It's artificial....
There's this thing called progress. But it doesn't progress....
Which only goes to show that if the end of the world didn't exist it would be necessary to invent it. (p. 291)

Waterland, by Graham Swift, a story whose setting takes place in the watery Fens, tells of history filled with movements and counter-movements, of progression and regression, and the ultimate end of the cycle. The Fens, like the history of the Atkinsons, seems to ensure that there is no end, just a piece of a cycle. Like all those who work with water, Tom Crick realizes that the water which his ancestors repeatedly subdued always rose up again to reclaim her land. And all the fairy tale splashes of Here and Now, those sudden doses of Reality which seem to be the end of the world for Tom Crick, are merely events experienced by his parents, and their parents. For what is progress but motion "forwards to go backwards...backwards to go forwards (p. 81)?"

Yet now, about to be dismissed from his teaching position, Crick tells his children "about empire-building." Crick claims "the end of the world came back again, not as an idea or a belief but as something the world had manufacture for itself (p. 291)." And this end, the creation of the atom bomb, is the true end of the world. Why are we to believe that Crick is right, that the end of the world has truly come? Has Crick merely lost the sense of perspective which he teaches, or does he possess some further insight?

The last passage (top of page) is reminiscent of Dante, who said, "If God did not exist, man would invent him." However, even God, the representation of the saviour of the world, predicts an end. Within the forward movement of Christianity, the exhortation by Jesus to spread his message throughout the world, is the inexorable counter-movement of destruction. Romans 1 proclaims:

The wrath of God is being revealed from heaven against all the godlessness and wickedness of men who suppress the truth by their wickedness... They exchanged the truth of God for a lie. Because of this, God gave them over to shameful lusts. Even their women exchanged natural relations for unnatural ones. In the same way the men also abandoned natural relations with women and were inflamed with lust for one another. Because of your stubbornness and your unrepentant heart, you are storing up wrath against yourself for the day of God's wrath...

Within Waterland are these events of unnatural relationships:

Because when fathers love daughters and daughters love fathers it's like typing up into a knot the thread that runs into the future, it's like a stream wanting to flow backwards. (p. 197)

Perhaps the end of the cyclic nature of the Fens, history, and the Atkinson line has truly arrived. Perhaps Dick, a potato-head who exists only in the here and now without the ability to delve into the past or future, is the child born without a soul who will invoke the end of the world, as predicted by the Book of Revelations? Maybe our history lesson has reached its end.

United Kingdom