Graham Swift crafts his female characters- Mary Metcalf, Sarah Atkinson, Helen Atkinson and Martha Clay- involved in “Waterland” so as to intertwine them to something other than being a character. These includes them being a object of sexual pleasure, as seen from Mary and the land girls. Women present in the novel also signify the men’s devotion to women. Their minor presence and functions in the novel also signify the novel’s male predominance In “Waterland”, the female characters serves as sexual objects to the rest of the male characters.
This can be seen in page 46 where Farmer Metcalf “regarded the land girls as replacement labour and made no concessioning either to their sex or to the patriotic motives which brought them to his acres”. The use of “replacement” in the diction of “replacement labour” suggests that their job to provide manual labour in the farm is meaningless that it needs to be substituted by sexual labour. this shows that the land girl are seen as sexual objects as their real purpose to labour is disregarded and substituted with sexual labour.
Another evidence to justify this is seen when Tom stated that Mary “could not keep exercising her curiosity… particularly in matters sexual, whose investigations, in this area, did not stop with the future history teacher”. The use of diction on “exercising” shows how her unfaithfulness with one love partner is eminent and seems like it is routined. Mary, in her adolescent age, offers herself as a sexual target to most of her peers that she associates with, as if her character has nothing else to offer but sexual pleasure. Hence, she is one of the women in the novel that serves as a sexual object.
In addition to this, Chapter 24 states how Freddie “shoved an eel in Mary’s knickers” and the use of the diction on “shove” shows how she is being harshly treated even during sexual intercourse. This shows how her character is seen as a sexual object. Contrasting the latter, the novel likewise talks about man’s devotion to women. In page46, it shows how Mary’s father “sent her, at his own expense, to the St. Gunnhilda Convent school in Gildsey”. The diction of “own expense” show the sacrifice and effort of the father to send her daughter to a school of his liking hence showing man’s devotion to woman.
Another example can be seen in Chapter 9 through the story of Sarah Atkinson and his husband. It states that “Sarah Atkinson was in her prime; and her husband is growing old and doting-and jealous”. The diction used in “doting” suggests that her husband had a strong and extreme fondness of her to an extent that he even was “jealous not because of other factors, but because of Sarah Atkinson herself. This shows the amount of addiction he had towards his wife, also portraying how a man was heavily devoted to the woman in the novel. Further in the novel, Tom said “What’s become of my beautiful grown-up Mommy? . Tom Crick uses the word “What’s become” as if to suggest his confusion and worry towards his mother. There is also a tone in his statement that suggest that he is battered by the physical deterioration of his mother. This shows the amount of impact Mrs. Crick had imprinted on Tom, due to the amount of concern and apprehension he had for his mother. Hence showing his man’s devotion to woman.
This shows the significance of woman in the novel as they had the power to be emotionally connected with man, other than fulfilling their roles and their expectations. ot only are they intertwined with the male characters, but they also impressed in them a great impact in their lives, to the extent, to some, that their lives had a turning point after they had left them, as seen through the death of Mrs. Crick. On the other hand, women magnify how the novel is male predominated. This can be seen through the description of Tom’s mother in the first few chapters of the novel. Other than stating that she died when Tom was 9, there was barely any other description of her.
Her abrupt spotlight-moment does not show her other positive achievements in the novel and her life is seen as limited. This magnify that the novel is male predominant as female roles such as Mrs. Crick is just seen essential from reproduction while their accomplishments and lives are limited. Another evidence to show that the novel is predominated can be seen from the way that the male characters has dominance over the women. An example of this can be seen from the novel where it states “Tom Crick turned Mary into an untouchable Madonna”.
The word “turned suggests how Tom has transformed Mary into something she originally was not, showing how he had power over her to change her original state. This can also be seen in Sarah Atkinson and her relationship with her husband. In page 76, the novel states that “Mrs Atkinson is innocent, innocent, and has nothing but loyalty and devotion for her husband”. The diction used in “nothing”, which is an absolute terminology, shows how she was entirely for him, adding on to the dictions used like “loyalty” and “devotion”.
Sarah Atkinson’s relationship with her husband proves that women had an obligation to men, thus showing that the novel is predominated. In conclusion, the points i have crafted shows the strength and weaknesses of the female characters in the novel. Their abilities poses pros and cons in their lives as well as others. Although Graham Swift does not use females as the main protagonists of the novel, he still utilises their characters to show significance and impact on his novel’s protagonists. Hence it is essential to recognise the roles and functions of the females in Waterland.