This simile is an early indication of just how powerful memory proves to be in The Water Dancer. Generally, we think of memory as an internal, mental process. But in the novel, it is a physical power that is capable of moving people from one place to another. Conduction is so powerful that it can fold the land as if it were cloth, so that enslaved people in the South can become free people in the East in a matter of minutes.
"My mother appeared only as fog and smoke" (Metaphor)
Coates uses the metaphors of fog and smoke to highlight Hiram’s inability to remember his mother. Hiram has an exceptional and very detailed memory. Yet of his mother he can only recall fleeting images and sensations. In this way, his memories of her are like fog and smoke, which come in passing and are impossible to grasp.
“We really ain’t nothing but jewelry to them.” (Metaphor)
Here Sophia’s metaphor expresses the way that the Nathaniel Walker treats her like an object. She must appear beautiful and dress like a lady of the Quality—yet she is like jewelry to him, an ornament that is a sign of his wealth and power. And when that jewelry starts to look old or goes out of style, Sophia says that Nathaniel will throw her away and forget about her.
“Conduction felt like the breaking and resetting of a bone” (Simile)
Through this metaphor, Coates demonstrates that Hiram struggles to understand how to use his power of Conduction. Hi feels that memories buried deep inside of him are trying to come to the surface through his experiences of Conduction. However, this does not bring him relief but rather a sense of agony, pain, and loss. Each time he experiences Conduction it feels like breaking and resetting a bone, because blocked and painful memories shift inside of him, changing his sense of who he is and who his mother was.
“Girl can sing like a bird.” (Simile)
Through this simile, Coates highlights the way that the Whites encourage the interests and endeavors of their freeborn children. Hiram understands that these children were born free and they are able to develop their talents in a way that he was never able to do. When Patsy plays the piano after dinner, the adults express great joy and pride. She can sing like a bird and is as free as a bird, able to do what she truly loves.
The Water Dancer Questions and Answers
The Question and Answer section for The Water Dancer is a great
resource to ask questions, find answers, and discuss the novel.