Blood Is Thicker Than Water:
The Girl Who Stopped Swimming

[In the following essay, water is discussed as a symbol in the rebirth of the main character, Laurel. K.F. connects this novel with both The Awakening by Kate Chopin and A Doll’s House by Henrik Ibsen. This essay also covers the topic truth vs. truthiness.]

Water is a symbol utilized in many novels to demonstrate rebirth. In The Girl Who Stopped Swimming, the word water is not only implied in the title of the novel but is also the main underlying focus. Water is what surrounds Laurel as she goes on a journey of solving a mystery along with discovering herself, family secrets, and true happiness.

Appearances are very unreliable and deceptive. Over the course of The Girl Who Stopped Swimming, appearances prove to be misleading facades that mask the reality of the tale’s characters and situations. Even the reader’s first encounter with Laurel is misleading. In the beginning, it appears that she lives a normal, nearly perfect life. She lives comfortably, in the gated neighborhood of Victoriana with her husband and her teenage daughter, Shelby. However, her current life is just a means for hiding Laurel ’s past. Like her mother, Laurel learns and perfects the trick of putting on blinders to what is ugly. Her tactic of ignoring makes her ignorant. This ignorance is what hurts Laurel in the end. The first appearance of water in the novel is in Laurel ’s dream of a little girl floating in her pool. The little girl turns out to be Shelby ’s best friend from down the road... The death of the girl, Molly, is what sets Laurel on her journey of rebirth as she tries to figure out who actually murdered her daughter’s best friend.

The Girl Who Stopped Swimming
is very similar to A Doll’s House by Henrik Ibsen. The character of Laurel parallels the character of Nora. Both women give off the idea of perfection and happiness. However, both women also keep secrets that make the happiness hard to manage. The reader also learns that it is not just Laurel holding in secrets, but rather the whole community in which she lives in. An example of this is that almost all of the housewives are having a secret affair with the gorgeous, single, young male who lives down the road. This, too, is like A Doll’s House, in that all the characters are hiding something, whether it is about money or love. Laurel also emulates Nora in that she does not vocalize her true feelings. It is only when she becomes fed up with her family that she finally cracks. Laurel takes off the blinders for the first time and sees the real life going on around her. However, she does not know how to properly look at the world so she makes assumptions that lead to her being more ignorant than she already was. She is seen drowning from the overwhelming reality setting in: “How could she protect Shelby if she refused to see danger coming. She hadn’t seen it in her house when it was rising all around her, filling up her shoes, soaking her” (191). Laurel, not being able to handle the cold hard truth, literally drowns in a bottle of vodka and figuratively drowns in the world and ugly truth around her. Since she was young, her mother taught her how to live in a world of “truthiness” and not actual truth, “…The ghosts of the thousand times that Laurel had been sweet and blind and silent for her Mother’s sake came crowding in, riding that scent like a wave, and then ten thousand more ghosts came. They pushed in around Laurel ” (213). Reality finally sets in.

Once the blinders are off, Laurel can see everything that she had missed in trying to solve the murder. The final reference to water is the scene at the end, where Laurel saves Shelby from drowning.
Up until this point in the novel, Laurel is seen drowning in her past and only concerned about what is best for herself. However here, she dives in fearlessly. But the real official rebirth does not occur until she is hit with a rock, “The drift seemed slow to Laurel. Everything seemed slow. She was sinking on the inside, too, darkness closing in and the sparkles fading” (298).. Laurel is pulled up by a mysterious hand. The hand that saves her is clearly a symbolism of the hand of God.. Laurel’s rebirth is complete when she resurfaces and makes it back to the shore. On the shore, her eyes are opened up to a whole new world. She is no longer afraid of not being in her white-picket-fence comfort zone. She has finally come to terms with all the things of her past, and she no longer puts blinders on to everything ugly and unconventional. “She waited for whatever would rise out of the water to rise” (303).

The Girl
Who Stopped Swimming
is similar to the novel, The Awakening, by Kate Chopin as well. The main character, Edna, is also reborn when she takes a final swim in the sea. The vast expanses of water that both women face at the end can only be braved after discovering one’s own self.

The name Laurel is significant.

The leaves and branches of the Bay Tree were used to make laurel wreaths in ancient Greece. In the ancient Olympic games, these wreaths were awarded to the victors. In the novel, The Girl Who Stopped Swimming, Laurel is victorious for finally standing up for herself. Through the significance of water, Laurel goes on more than just a simple journey of solving a mystery. Her real journey was the journey of rebirth and discovering who she really was.

(K.F. 2008)

Between a Rock and Hard Place: Between, Georgia
[In this essay, KF connects the famous play by Shakespeare, Romeo and Juliet, to Jackson’s novel Between, Georgia. Self discovery and comparing and contrasting both the play and the novel are also discussed. ]

A rock and a hard place is exactly what Nonny Frett is stuck between in her hometown of Between, Georgia. Her life is a replica copy of Romeo and Juliet except with more complications and no literal deaths. Followed by both the family that stole her away and the family that lost her, she embarks on a journey of self-discovery.

In Romeo and Juliet by Shakespeare, the two families, the Montague’s and Capulet’s are constantly feuding. Both Romeo and Juliet are in love with each other, which is forbidden. Both young lovers go through the conflict of staying true to their families or following their hearts’ desires. This love results in both of their deaths in the end. While Between, Georgia does not follow the exact story line, its characters are very similar. Both Henry and Nonny are in love. And both of their families are feuding. And by saying families, it is actually a feud between Ona Crabtree and Bernese Frett that just happens to drag the surrounding family members into it too. Both Henry and Nonny endure the expectation of being faithful to family versus following their hearts. They are each expected to take a side in the argument:
I wanted to answer him, but this was war, and I was beginning to understand that Henry Crabtree and I were on different sides. He was part and parcel of everything that I was fighting, and half a kiss didn’t make me his family. It didn’t make me his anything. (179)
Both Henry and Nonny are stuck in the middle of the whole feud or rather between it. Jackson also utilizes alliteration (as seen with ‘part and parcel’; ‘wanted, was, war’ etc.) in this passage to further her point. The symbolism of both the name of the book and the name of the town simply emphasizes the situation Nonny and Henry find themselves in. They are forced to take a stance on something they would rather not even have to deal with. Realizing the ignorance of both Ona and Bernese, they eventually come to the conclusion, just like Romeo and Juliet, that they need to create their own side and attempt to escape from everything their families are fighting about, “Then whose side should I be on?” “I hope you’ll be on mine. Ours. Be on Ours” (197). One must keep in mind, however, that both Romeo and Juliet are teenagers, while Henry and Nonny are grown adults in their early thirties. Both parties’ means of escape are different. Romeo and Juliet are irrational and jump to conclusions, which results in both of their deaths. On the other hand, Nonny and Henry choose to ignore what is going on around them and rationalize the fact that, while Ona and Bernese give off the air that they are two completely different people (Ona the epitome of southern white trash and Bernese a southern Baptist who practically runs and owns the town respectively) in fact, they are exactly the same:
Bernese and Ona are practically the same person… Bernese is nothing but a dead-sober Ona with an outsize scoop of ambition and some money. She keeps her nasty parts yard in a black-lit terrarium and calls it a hobby, but squalor is squalor, Nonny. They both shoot before they think, and they’ll both do anything that needs doing for their families, no matter who or what is in the way. (177)
In the end, the feud results in a fire and the figurative death of both Henry’s and Nonny’s lives. Henry loses everything physical that still connected him to his family, while Nonny loses the thing she cherishes most, her little girl, Fisher. Just as in Romeo and Juliet, this final eruption of things is what brings the fighting families together to make peace. Romeo and Juliet are together wherever one goes after death, and Nonny and Henry move to Atlanta, Georgia to live together. There they will be free of everything family-related with nothing to hold them back, “Nonny? It’s like we’re flying!” “And it was” (294).

Unlike Romeo and Juliet, Nonny and Henry do not end up literally dead. They grow and learn about themselves and how sometimes, in the end, getting ‘between’ something can create peace.

(K.F. 2008)