The Role of Childhhod in Swift's Waterland

The Role of Childhhod in Swift's Waterland

Barnali Tahbildar '97, English 27 (1997)

Graham Swift's Waterland suggests that one should never stop being a child. For to the adult narrator, Tom Crick, childhood is the primordial state of existence. To be a child is, in essence, to be alive. In Swift's novel, childhood is not merely a distinct set of years in one's life; childhood is a state of mind which must be continued into one's adult experience.

In Aké: The Years of Childhood, young Wole is often ridiculed for asking "too many" questions; his intense sense of curiosity is perceived to be an amusing and trivial part of his being a child. ["Listen you silly. You ask too many questions" (66) "They said it Ayo warned me, and so did Eniola. When I said they should leave you with me today, they warned. Be Careful. He will kill you with questions" (148)] In Waterland, however, the same sense of curiosity for which young Wole is ridiculed is, in essence, the key to existence for narrator Tom Crick:

Children, don't stop asking why. Don't cease your Why Sir? Why Sir? Though it gets more difficult the more you ask it, though it gets more inexplicable, more painful, and the answer never seems to come any nearer, don't try to escape this question Why. (Waterland 130)

For Tom Crick, to ask questions is to be curious and to be curious is to be like a child. As a history teacher, Crick attempts to condition his children to be curious - to ask questions about the past in order to understand the present and to construct the future. If children grow up into adults who stop asking questions -- adults who cease to exert their child-like sense of curiosity -- then, in the mind of Tom Crick, history will die. And when history dies, there is no future.

Nigerial Ake Waterland

Document last modified 20 December 2001