Water Imagery in the Works of Eudora Welty, Teresa de la Parra, Kate Chopin, and María Luisa Bombal

Water Imagery in the Works of Eudora Welty, Teresa de la Parra, Kate Chopin, and María Luisa Bombal
??The pouring-down rain, the pouring down rain? ?was that what she was saying over and over, like a song??.
Eudora Welty, ?A Piece of News?

? Usually I prefer to stay at the pool because there the river holds a serene and mysterious charm for me?.
(Por regla general yo prefiero quedarme en la toma, porque es alla en donde el rio tiene para mi aquel encanto sereno y misterioso).
Teresa de la Parra, Iphigenia (The Diary of a Young Lady Who Wrote Because She Was Bored) (Ifigenia (Diario de una señorita que se escribó porque se fastidiaba))

? The voice of the sea speaks to the soul?.
Kate Chopin, The Awakening? And like this, naked and golden, I dive into the water?
(Y asi, desnuda y dorada, me sumerjo en el estanque).
María Luisa Bombal, The Final Mist (La última niebla)

Water imagery occurs repeatedly in the works of Eudora Welty, Teresa de la Parra, Kate Chopin, and María Luisa Bombal suggesting that it is intimately connected with the inner worlds of the female protagonists in these stories. The storm dramatizes Ruby?s death fantasy in ?A Piece of News? by Eudora Welty. The river provides a place for María Eugenia to express herself in Iphigenia (The Diary of a Young Lady Who Wrote Because She Was Bored) (Ifigenia (Diario de una senorita que se escribo porque se fastidiaba)) by Teresa de la Parra. The sea elicits Edna?s deepest desires in The Awakening by Kate Chopin, and the mist triumphs over the nameless narrator?s attempt to escape death in The Final Mist (La última niebla) by María Luisa Bombal.

According to Carl Gustav Jung, water is the commonest symbol for the unconscious (Jung 18). Jung and other psychoanalytic critics also recognize water as central for understanding the transforming processes of the life cycle, the most important of which, Jung identifies as the process of individuation, or the constant struggle to come to terms with inner images and outer events (Aniela Jaffé 79). Annis Pratt?s transformational journey puts Jung?s process of individuation into a feminist perspective while providing an important place for water, which in all of these stories functions as the green-world token, or ?some ordinary phenomenon that suddenly takes on extraordinary portent? (139). The theories of Jung and Pratt aid in the discovery of the ways that water imagery, which signals the female protagonists? engagement with the unconscious, facilitates their transformational journeys.

The unconscious is, in psychological terms, ?the reality that transcends consciousness and appears as the spiritual background of the world? (Jaffé 14). However, Jung distinguishes between the ?personal unconscious? and the ?collective unconscious.? While the ?personal unconscious? refers to the ?relatively limited sphere of the repressed and forgotten? of a single person, the ?collective unconscious? refers to an overall psychic background of humans (Jaffé 14). Within the collective unconscious reside archetypes, described by myth critics as ?irrepresentable dispositions in the unconscious, the timeless constants of human nature? (Jaffé 17). Archetypal images such as water make the archetypes in the collective unconscious accessible to the conscious (Jaffé 18). The realm of the unconscious is often manifest in dreams and fantasies. However Jung also observed creative art forms such as dancing, painting, drawing, and modeling to uncover the ?spontaneous manifestation of an unconscious process which was merely assisted by the technical ability of the patient, and to which I later gave the name ?individuation process?? (Jaffé 78). In literature, the myths in which these archetypal images appear ?are the means by which archetypes, essentially unconscious forms, become manifest and articulate to the conscious mind? (Guerrin 179). Water imagery is an archetype of the collective unconscious that helps us read into the personal unconscious of the female protagonists.

During the process of individuation, individuals use what Jung calls the active imagination so that the conscious may perceive, at least in part, the unconscious (Jaffé 78). The active imagination thus aids us in the process of individuation. In these four novels, the protagonists are continually fantasizing and dreaming about lovers, the past, and the future. The storm outside dramatizes Ruby?s imagined death and the narrator?s lover appears in the fog during a dream. We hear the waves of the ocean as Edna reflects upon her marriage, and sit with María Eugenia as she shares her worries with the river. Edna and María Eugenia also attempt to take up creative art forms such as painting and playing the piano, respectively. These, coupled with the fact that each character is somehow changed, or transformed by the end of the stories show that they are engaging in the process of individuation.

Recurrent water imagery in all four works points to the ongoing struggle between the conscious and unconscious as the protagonists engage in the process of individuation. Their processes, however, lead not to actuation (to realize what one wants and to put it into action), but to frustration, resignation, hallucination, and even death.

For example, in the course of a rainstorm, Ruby in ?A Piece of News? realizes that her personal and emotional needs will continue to go unaddressed in her relationship with Clyde. When María Eugenia of Iphigenia sails back to Venezuela she begins to feel limited and entrapped by her conservative Venezuelan family because she enjoyed a greater degree of personal, social, cultural, and economic liberties in Paris than they find acceptable. At the hacienda, she retreats to the water for a sense of peace and understanding and to escape her conflicts with the family. But by the end of the novel, she comes to accept the kind of life that her family wants her to live by jilting her lover and marrying their preferred suitor. During a budding extra-marital affair, Edna in The Awakening learns to swim, takes up painting, and moves into her own house. Throughout the novel, the water provides a place for Edna to engage in her personal transformation. However, by the end of the novel, Edna is both unsatisfied with her marriage and her alternatives to marriage and commits suicide by drowning herself in the sea. The narrator in The Final Mist takes refuge in the thought of a lover she meets one foggy night to escape the reality of her unfulfilling marriage. But when she realizes that her lover is only a figment of her imagination, she accepts her married life, which by the end of the novel has become synonymous with the narrator?s emotional death and the ever-advancing mist.

Although all of these stories contain water imagery, which is connected to the transformational journeys of the female protagonists, each story takes place during a different time and place in history. In the case of the US authors, ?A Piece of News? is set in the rural Mississippi during the early 1900?s and The Awakening is set in New Orleans and Grand Isle in the Gulf of Mexico during the late 1800?s. While ?A Piece of News? was published in 1941, and The Awakening in 1899, ?At the turn of the century women were restricted in nearly every aspect of their lives. They could not vote, could not enter most professions or attend most colleges, and were physically restricted by their clothing? (Joyce Moss 420). The turn of the century also saw the closing of the Victorian Era, which stipulated that women adhere to strict sexual standards. These restrictions make actuation for the protagonists in these works all the more difficult.

A brief history of the women?s movement in the United States before the twentieth century begins with the Seneca Falls Convention in 1848 where

Organizers drafted a Declaration of Sentiments that included, among other issues, a call for women being granted the right to vote. For the first time in history, women publicly challenged the notion of ?separate spheres? (the division of labor and interests between the male ?public sphere? and the female ?private sphere?). (Moss 16)

Unlike the Seneca Falls feminists in the U.S., feminists in Latin America endorsed the idea of separate spheres in order to expand women?s rights. Like some feminists in U.S. that pointed to domestic experience and moral superiority as reasons why they should be able to vote, most feminists in the Southern Cone in the early 1900s emphasized women?s roles in the family as mothers citing altruism and sensitivity as attributes that made women capable of tackling moral issues in the public sphere (Moss 16; Lavrin 52).

Women in Chile and Venezuela where also denied basic rights and did not get the vote until 1933 and 1946, respectively. Although women in the U.S. gained the right to vote with the passage of the nineteenth amendment in 1920 ?. . . many women were still denied basic rights, especially in the South. In Louisiana, where The Awakening takes place, a married woman did not even legally own the clothes she wore? (Moss 16).

Among the four authors, only one saw herself as a feminist: Teresa de la Parra. But even Parra shied away from issues such as universal suffrage. What is significant, however, is that all four stories reflect basic feminist tendencies of the times. For example, Iphigenia and The Final Mist were published in 1924 and 1934, respectively during a time when feminists in South America were striving to gain ?personal consciousness of the meaning of being female? (Lavrin 4). As the female protagonists engage in the process of individuation, they bump up against the social norms that restrict them from doing what they want because they are female. Although each novel takes place in a different time and place, the fact that women?s rights were culturally, socially, and economically restricted in all of these places provides a crucial point of similarity.

In light of women?s experience in society, Pratt feminizes Jung?s model of individuation by reading into the archetypal images that appear in women?s eighteenth and nineteenth century British and North American literature. We can justify using Pratt?s model with nineteenth and twentieth century books from North and South America because women?s experience in society is still different from men?s, which is due in part to the historical restrictions discussed above. Also because the transformational journeys of the female protagonists in these works follow the phases that Pratt derives from the earlier British and North American novels. Pratt builds upon Jungian theory with a feminist perspective writing that

Whatever is experienced in the inner journey must be understood as at one and the same time individual and collective, the materials of the unconscious deriving from the repository that Jung spent his lifetime codifying according to what he termed its intrinsic organization in ?definite recognizable patterns.? The problem that he himself acknowledged, however, was that since so much of women?s experience is socially marginal, there was not as frequent a correlation between unconscious and ?recognizable patterns? in women?s social experience as in men?s. (137)

The process of individuation is different for women because of their unique experience in society. Jaffé also explains that according to Jung, archetypal images are dependent on ?the environment, personal experience, and the given culture? (18). On this point, Pratt and Jung are in agreement.
If the process of individuation can be thought of as the constant struggle to come to terms with inner images and outer events, and these events are influenced by whether or not one is a man or a woman, we must describe how the female transformational journey is different from the male (Jaffé 79). Pratt explains,

women find it hard to translate the contents of their unconscious into recognizable symbols and myths. Since in Jung?s schema the unconscious consists largely of ?the feminine? ?a quality translated into male religions, myths, and cult practices as alien and fearful ?women must come to terms with unconscious materials distorted by cultural bias. (138)

In order to distinguish women?s experience from men?s, Pratt details the way that the transformational journeys of women differ from those of men. The journey consists of five phases:

1. Splitting off from family, husbands, lovers
2. The green-world guide or token
3. The green-world lover
4. Confrontation with parental figures
5. The plunge into the unconscious

During the first phase the protagonist experiences ?an acute consciousness of the world of the ego and of a consequent turning away from societal norms? (139). The stage often consists of rebellion against institutions such as marriage, and may include other forms of social protest such as that against economic enclosure (139).

In the second phase, ?the hero is helped to cross the threshold of her adventure by some ordinary phenomenon that suddenly takes on extraordinary portent? (139). Pratt explains that these green-world guides and tokens crop up in such esoteric forms as puddles, fruit jars, turtles, seals, flute songs, landscape, and nature imagery, both real and imagined (139). In all four works, the green-world token takes a form of water.

The third phase consists of the encounter with the green-world lover. Pratt explains, ?whether as an actual figure or a revery one, an ideal, nonpatriarchal lover sometimes appears as an initiatory guide and often aids at difficult points in the quest. He (sometimes she or it) does not constitute the goal of the rebirth journey? (140).

Fourth comes the confrontation with parental figures, which often consists of reconciliation with the past. After confronting these personal memories, the hero is free to ?journey toward the unconscious proper, the realm from which the green-world lover and the guide or token have summoned her? (Pratt 141).

In this final phase of the rebirth journey, Pratt details the ways in which women confront the Jungian shadow and animus which ?constellate into figures combining gynophobia with such ?masculine? impulses as logic, aggression, and power struggles? (141). As Guerrin explains, according to Jungian theory, ?the shadow is the darker side of our unconscious self, the inferior and less pleasing aspects of the personality, which we wish to suppress.? The animus or anima is the sexual opposite of the protagonist. In men the anima is female, the ?image of the opposite sex that he carries in both his personal and his collective unconscious.? It represents ?the ?soul-image,? the spirit of a man?s élan vital, his life force or vital energy. In the sense of ?soul,? says Jung, anima is the ?living thing in man, that which lives of itself and causes life.? In addition, ?the anima is a kind of mediator between the ego (the conscious will or thinking self) and the unconscious or inner world of the male individual.? Furthermore, the persona, ?the obverse of the anima in that it mediates between our ego and the external world? can also be thought of as a person?s ?social mask? (181-182).

In the Jungian process of individuation, the person must confront and assimilate his or her shadow and anima or animus, and the persona. During Pratt?s journey into the unconscious, the protagonist first encounters her shadow and animus. However, Pratt notes, because women internalize patriarchal norms about femininity during this stage, ?the rebirth journey entails risk and psychological danger, as likely to lead to madness as to renewal? (141, 142). Pratt explains:

The problem, as we have seen, is that ?insanity,? whether literary or clinical, is often a perfect mirror of the feminine persona?s place within society, an image of the enclosure of its victims, and thus the transformed hero who has survived this layer of her unconscious is unlikely to be able to reintegrate herself fully into ?normal? society. (142, 143)

The failure of individuation leads to the defeat of the protagonist.
Reading water as a symbol of the unconscious links water to the process of individuation, as well as to Pratt?s transformational journey. Juan Eduardo Cirlot, poet and art theoretician, echoes Jung?s interpretation of the water as a symbol of the unconscious, which is often associated with the feminine. Cirlot writes that water is ?a symbol of the unconscious, that is, of the non-formal, dynamic, motivating, female side of the personality? (365).

However, Cirlot goes a step further than Jung in calling water ?a mediator between life and death? by analogy because it is the transitional element ?between fire and air (the ethereal elements) and earth (the solid element)? (365). In linking the two interpretations, water becomes a symbol of the unconscious, and a mediator between life and death.

Also, recall that the process of individuation can be thought of as the constant struggle to come to terms with inner images and outer events. (Jaffé 79) Individuals use what Jung calls the active imagination so that the conscious may perceive, at least in part, the unconscious (Jaffé 78). Water can thus be thought of as a key element in the struggle between inner and outer events, the conscious and the unconscious, and life and death.

Furthermore, Jung?s explanation of water as ?carnality heavy with passion? is linked with life, or the conception of children. However passion is also linked with death, because extreme passion is traditionally linked with sinfulness, which leads us to death rather than to eternal life in the Christian tradition (Archetypes 19). Jung also writes of ?the longing to attain rebirth through the return to the mother?s womb? and the idea that the mother?s womb is described using water imagery (207). Water thus links death, passion, birth, and life.

But for the protagonists in these stories, these forces are somewhat out of sync. Failures of individuation, and the completion of transformational journeys which lead to madness, resignation, and death point to an inability of the characters to reconcile their wants and needs with their actual lives.

Water Imagery in the Works of Eudora Welty, Teresa de la Parra, Kate Chopin, and María Luisa Bombal 9.3 of 10 on the basis of 4217 Review.