Sunday 17 March 2024

Deep Water

Deep Water

By William Douglas


Analysis :

§  The chapter ‘Deep Water’ is written by William O. Douglas who was an advocate and the longest serving judge of the court.

§  The following excerpt is taken from 'Of Men and Mountains' by William O. Douglas. It reveals how as a young boy, William Douglas was nearly drowned in a swimming pool.

§  In this essay he talks about his fear of water and thereafter, how he finally overcame it. We are able to notice how the autobiographical part of the selection is used to support his discussion of fear.

§  The story is subjective as it describes the emotions of the writer associated with his childhood and his fear of water. It brings his childhood memories back when he was nearly drowned.

§  This chapter depicts the author's intense personal struggle with a traumatic experience and the subsequent journey of overcoming fear. The near drowning experience at the hands of a bullying boy leaves a profound impact on the narrator. The vivid and detailed description of the fear, panic, and physical sensations during the incident provides a raw portrayal of trauma. 

§  Chapter highlights the gradual nature of healing and the theme of triumph over fear. This theme of resilience inspires the readers to be mentally strong, face the fear and overcome it.

Summary / Synopsis

The chapter ‘Deep Water’ reflects the author's intense personal struggle with a traumatic experience and the subsequent journey of overcoming fear.

Traumatic experience had happened when the narrator was ten or eleven years old. He decided to learn to swim. There was a pool at the Y.M.C.A in Yakima. He hated to walk naked in water and show his skinny legs. But he did it to learn swimming.

This scare for water got into his heart when he was three or four years old and father took him to the beach in California. He and I stood together in the surf. I hung on to him, yet the waves knocked me down and swept over him. His breath was gone. He was frightened. Father laughed, but he got extremely scared of overpowering force of the waves.

Y.M.CA. swimming pool revived his unpleasant memories and fear. But he tried to gather confidence as he was determined. He paddled with his water wings, watching the other boys.

Once he was alone at the pool. He waited for other boys to come. Then, a big bruiser of a boy, probably eighteen years old. He picked him up and tossed him into the deep end. He landed in a sitting position, swallowed water, and went at once to the bottom. He was frightened out of his wits. Those nine feet were more like ninety, and when his feet hit bottom, he summoned all his strength and made a great leap upwards. He tried to bring his legs up, but they hung as dead weights, paralysed and rigid. A great force pulled him under and he went down again. He went down and down, endlessly. And then sheer, stark terror seized him. When his third attempt also failed, his body became weak and motionless. And he was pulled out by the same boy who threw him into the water.

For days, months and years a haunting fear remained in his heart. The slightest thought of water upset him. Water served as a powerful symbol throughout the chapter. Initially, the YMCA swimming pool represents a place of safety and learning, but the traumatic incident transforms it into a source of deep-seated fear. The aftermath is characterised by lingering anxiety, nightmares, and an aversion to water related activities. The fear extends to natural bodies of water, impacting the narrator's ability to enjoy outdoor activities like fishing, boating, wsimming and canoeing. 

 Finally, one October, the narrator decided to get an instructor and learn to swim. He went to a pool and practised five days a week, an hour each day. The instructor put a belt around him and a rope attached to the belt went through a pulley that ran on an overhead cable. Each time the instructor relaxed his hold on the rope and he went under, the old terror returned and his legs froze. Then, he taught him to put his face under water and exhale, and to raise his nose and inhale. He repeated the exercise hundreds of times. Bit by bit he shed part of the panic that seized him earlier when his head went under water.

After good practice, he went to the Lake Wentworth in New Hampshire, dived off a dock at Triggs Island, and swam two miles across the lake to Stamp Act Island. Once, the fear gripped him in the Lake, he defeated that fear.

The narrator's decision to face and overcome the fear represents a journey of self discovery and resilience. Seeking swimming lessons and practicing regularly with an instructor display a deliberate and determined effort to confront and conquer the deep rooted phobia.

The narrative highlights the gradual nature of healing and triumph over fear. The step-by-step process of swimming lessons, started with basic skills and progressed to more challenging tasks. It results as the incremental progress in overcoming trauma.

Towards the end, the eventual triumph of the writer over his fear is marked by a swimming challenge across a lake. It was the symbol of a profound personal victory. Under the depth of Lake water he stared into the eyes of fear and scared it and the fear fled away. When he camped in Conrad Meadows, he dived into the lake and swam back to the shore. He shouted with joy that he had conquered his fear of water and the Gilbert Peak returned the echo.

Despite the initial fear and ongoing struggles the narrator perseveres, faces the fear which had deep set in his soul and emerges victorious. At last, he felt released and he quotes Roosevelt, "All we have to fear is the fear itself."

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