The symbolism of reservoirs in literature


Reservoirs have been a common feature in literature for centuries, often serving as a symbol of various themes and concepts. From ancient texts to modern works, these man-made structures have been used to represent a plethora of ideas, creating a deeper meaning and adding complexity to the literary landscape. In this article, we will delve into the symbolism of reservoirs in literature, exploring their significance and the practical examples of their usage.

First and foremost, reservoirs are often viewed as a symbol of power and control. This is due to their role in harnessing and storing a vital resource – water. In literature, reservoirs have been used to represent rulers or leaders who hold power over their subjects. One such example can be found in William Shakespeare’s play, “Macbeth”. The titular character, Macbeth, is determined to maintain his grasp on the throne and solidify his power. In one scene, he proclaims: “Double, double toil and trouble; / Fire burn and cauldron bubble” while his wife, Lady Macbeth, adds water to their cauldron. The use of water here can be seen as a representation of Macbeth’s control over his kingdom and his determination to maintain it at any cost.

Reservoirs have also been used as a symbol of isolation and confinement in literature. Due to their nature of being closed-off and self-contained, they can represent a sense of entrapment or being cut off from the outside world. This symbolism can be seen in Charlotte Perkins Gilman’s short story, “The Yellow Wallpaper”. The main character, a woman suffering from postpartum depression, is confined to a room with yellow wallpaper. Throughout the story, she becomes fixated on the wallpaper, which she describes as having “bulbous eyes” and a “repellent, almost revolting” color. The yellow wallpaper can be seen as a metaphor for the woman’s mental state, and the reservoir outside her room symbolizes her isolation and entrapment within her mind.

Furthermore, reservoirs have been used to represent the passage of time and the cyclical nature of life. In literature, they often serve as a reminder that everything is constantly changing and evolving. An example of this can be seen in Toni Morrison’s novel, “Beloved”. The main character, Sethe, lives in a house that was once a waystation for escaped slaves. Outside her house is a well that never dries up, even during the harshest of droughts. This well can be seen as a symbol of the ancestors and their continuous presence, reminding Sethe that time may pass, but their legacy and spirit will always remain.

In addition to their symbolic usage, reservoirs have also been used as a practical element in literature, providing a setting for various events and plot points. In Emily St. John Mandel’s post-apocalyptic novel, “Station Eleven”, a reservoir serves as a central location for a community of survivors. The reservoir, now empty and dry, serves as a reminder of the world before the devastating flu outbreak. It also becomes a source of conflict when another group tries to take it over, highlighting the importance of resources in a post-apocalyptic world.

In conclusion, throughout literature, reservoirs have been used as powerful symbols to convey various themes and concepts, from power and control to isolation and the passage of time. They not only add depth and complexity to the literary landscape but also serve as practical elements in the storytelling. As readers, it is important to analyze and understand the symbolism of such elements in literature, as it helps us to appreciate the deeper meaning and significance behind the words on the page.