A bottle. A beer bottle. A bottle of thick dark brown glass, but not a sort of bottle that is seen any more around the Fens...I take the bottle and carry it along the river-bank...from where it will float down to the Ouse, and even, perhaps, in time, to the sea. An old fashioned, but quite unmuddied, beer bottle, with round the base, embossed in the glass, the words: Atkinson Gildsey. (Waterland 39-40)
In Graham Swift's Waterland, the scene in which Tom Crick discovers a glass beer bottle floating down the river serves as one of the most pivotal scenes in the novel, a symbolic image of the Atkinsons ("beer people") and Cricks ("water people") and, more importantly, a piece of the puzzle in the Freddie Parr murder mystery. The meeting of glass and water also plays an important role in the course of Peter Carey's Oscar and Lucinda. When the reader of Oscar and Lucinda first encounters an image of glass, it is in the form of the Prince Rupert drop, a piece of glass shaped like a drop of water [It is also important to note that the narrator is physically holding this symbol of glass and water as he writes his family story - "I hold it in the palm of my left hand while the right hand moves to and fro across the page" (108)]. The final scene of Oscar and Lucinda, in which the glass church is destroyed and consumed by water, functions as another important encounter between water and glass. In both Waterland and Oscar and Lucinda, images of glass are conflated with images of water and the reader is left to wonder "What is the connection between the two?" This set of interlinked essays explore the connection between glass and water imagery in Oscar and Lucinda and Waterland and show how they are associated with
Before examining their power as symbolic images, let us examine the physical characteristics of glass and water:
Glass is a thing in disguise, an actor, is not solid at all, but a liquid, that an old sheet of glass will not only take on a royal and purplish tinge but will reveal its true liquid nature by having grown fatter at the bottom and thinner at the top, and that even while it is as frail as the ice on a Paramatta puddle, it is stronger under compression than Sydney sandstone. (Oscar and Lucinda 111)
The comparison between glass and "ice on a Paramatta puddle" in Oscar and Lucinda illustrates the dual nature of both glass and water, substances which are simultaneously liquid and solid. As a liquid capable of freezing into ice and as a solid whose origins derive from a liquid state, water and glass lend themselves well to the idea of duality and function appropriately as literary symbols in Swift's Waterland and Carey's novel.
Last modified 1 March 2004