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Written by Fariha Islam
“Women like Water” Simile
“Tempting,” “treacherous,” “bottomless,” “shallow,” “dirty” are the words used to describe both women and water (a water body) in this novel. Through the aggressive Italian character of Giovanni, the author shows how the conventional patriarchal mirror reflects women and womanhood altogether. All the negative adjectives imply that the women are not trustworthy and they just get their way through seducing men. Gender roles are one of the major issues questioned and contested in this novel and Baldwin does an apt job at portraying what the patriarchy makes out of the women and femininity with all the similes, quests and realizations of his characters throughout Giovanni’s Room.
Time and Fish Simile
Through Giovanni, Baldwin compares time with water and understandably so since they both flow relentlessly and waits for none. But his comparison is more elaborate and complete as he says, “Time is like water for fish.” Time is a stream in which human are alive and they die when their time runs out like a fish out of water. In the ecosystem of time, strong dominates the life of the weak like the big fish eating the small ones. This brings out a sorry truth of this world where the people in power almost always get away with just about anything and the others are just the victim of their harmful ways throughout their lives and they die when their time on earth comes to an end. Humans are just like fish swimming inside a water body looking for food.
Paris stands for free will. It is a city where one is at the liberty to be whomever they choose to be. David comes here to hide from his family in America and explore his true being. The girl from Minneapolis, Hella comes to Paris to study art only to figure out she is no good at it. Giovanni is an Italian bloke who comes to Paris for a fresh start after his tragic past. Paris is full of people from around the world and the diversity itself gives one the license to explore oneself and decide who they want to be or who they have always been on the inside. Paris has something for everyone. The characters find their home in Paris because they are not judged here like by their lifelong acquaintances back home. Paris grants them true freewill which human beings are known to crave.
The Seine Metaphor
The Seine is the source of life in Paris. The essence of being and its one major element, diversity flows through it. The Seine, with its beauty and history gives the Parisians hope. The walks along the banks of the Seine, give the characters a platform to open up to one another on several occasions. It is also a prime spot to commit suicide for depressed and failed Parisians. The Seine’s beauty is too intimidating for them to pass and they take a leap to end their misery and the river, henceforth, stands (or flows) for what their life had been. One may want to call it the source of death but the life of many (who take in its beauty standing on the bank) is reflected on its water and the life of others’ (who choose to end their life drowning in it) become the flow of its stream.
The Cigarettes stand for intimacy. David and Giovanni passed their leisure in Giovanni’s room smoking cigarettes and drinking cognac. The cigarette smoke creates an atmosphere of warmth and coziness for them. Their connection and intimacy grow under a sweet trance of blue cigarette smoke. Many smokers say that cigarettes are their best friends when there is nobody else around but in this novel, cigarette bridges a gap between David and Giovanni. David has a habit of not letting anyone in although Giovanni is laying his life like an open book to David and that creates a gap between them. But with the cigarettes burning, their minds are occupied with smoking and they are only concentrating on what they themselves are doing and not what the other one is hiding or not saying. It allows them to develop a bond of utmost intimacy even without a one hundred percent transparency from both sides.
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