Beyond Literary Landscapes—Water as a Symbol

From my early beginnings as a young introvert, the public library has always been a bit of a refuge.  Years later, not much has changed, albeit with an additional affinity for endless hours spent scouring second-hand bookstores to add to my ever-growing “to-read” pile.

From one bookworm to another, this column underscores and outlines various literary genres, authors, and recent reads and serves as an introduction for those unfamiliar with these works, as a refresher for long-time aficionados, and maybe as an inspiration for readers to share their own suggested topics.  Do you have a topic that you would like covered in this column?  Feel free to contact me for an interview and a feature in an upcoming column.


This week, I was inspired by the power of the ocean while briefly re-reading Herman Melville’s Moby Dick.  Scanning my library, I realized that, in fact, many classic texts are set thematically on some type of body of water, and, in many cases, water serves as powerful symbolism.

Often, water can be used as a symbol of rebirth, or as a “cleansing or healing process.”

Examples of notable authors who focused on the incredible power of the ocean, sea, or river include Ernest Hemingway, Herman Melville, William Shakespeare, and José Saramago.

Other examples include Henry David Thoreau and Joseph Conrad.


Some examples of water-focused texts include The Old Man and the Sea by Ernest Hemingway, Moby Dick by Herman Melville, The Tempest by William Shakespeare, and The Stone Raft by José Saramago.

Other examples of works include Walden’s Pond by Henry David Thoreau and Heart of Darkness by Joseph Conrad.


These works take place on various oceans, seas, rivers, and ponds off the coasts of Portugal, the eastern United States, the Congo River, Cuba, and remote islands.


These works take place in the 17, 19, 20, and 21-centuries.


These water-focused texts may be of interest to AU students who are fascinated by the sheer power of bodies of water and its symbolism, as well as those who would like to read some water-focused classics.  These works may also be of interest to AU English majors and writers who would like to work on incorporating strong symbolism into their own writing.


AU’s wide range of diverse courses make it easy to study this topic in depth.  Courses related to Water-Focused Literature are available in a variety of disciplines, including one’s that may fit into your Degree Works.  (Always check with an AU counsellor to see if these particular courses fulfill your personal graduation requirements!)

AU students interested in learning more about this topic may enroll in ENGL 324: Shakespeare I, a senior-level, three-credit course, which serves as “an introduction to the age of Shakespeare and his plays.  It will begin with an introduction to the following topics: a brief biography of Shakespeare; a crash course in the origins of Western theatre and the evolution of Shakespearean drama; an introduction to Shakespeare’s political and cultural milieu; a survey of certain mysteries and critical questions about Shakespeare; and an overview of Shakespeare’s English.”  (Please note that this course requires students to complete ENGL 211: Prose Forms and ENGL 212: Poetry and Plays, or ENGL 325: Shakespeare II—or obtain professor approval.)

Students may also be interested in ENGL 345: American Literature II, senior-level, three-credit course, which “continues the exploration of the history and development of American literature and its rich variety of forms and techniques.”  (ENGL 211: Prose Forms and ENGL 212 are required prerequisites.)  Happy reading!