ATD Question #13 ~ The Sea

by John Fante

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DeppInTheHeartOfTexas
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ATD Question #13 ~ The Sea

Unread postby DeppInTheHeartOfTexas » Wed Nov 28, 2007 8:56 am

Pg. 96-97 “At the end of the row of concessions the sand beach began. Beyond were the dunes. I waded through the sand to a place where the dunes hid the boardwalk. This needed thinking out. I didn’t kneel, I sat down and watched the breakers eating the shore. This is bad, Arturo. You have read Nietzsche, you have read Voltaire, you should know better. But reasoning wouldn’t help. I could reason myself out of it, but that was not my blood. It was my blood that was wrong. I sat there and gave myself over to my blood, let it carry me swimming back to the deep sea of my beginnings. Vera Rivken, Arturo Bandini. It was not meant that way: it was never meant that way. I was wrong. I had committed a mortal sin. I could figure it mathematically, philosophically, psychologically: I could prove it a dozen ways, but I was wrong, for there was no denying the warm even rhythm of my guilt.

Sick in my soul I tried to face the ordeal of seeking forgiveness. From whom? What God, what Christ? They were myths I once believed, and now they were beliefs I felt were myths. This is the sea, and this is Arturo, and the sea is real, and Arturo believes it real. Then I turn from the sea, and everywhere I look there is land; I walk on and on, and still the land goes stretching away to the horizons. A year, five years, ten years, and I have not seen the sea. I say unto myself, but what has happened to the sea? And I answer, the sea is back there, back in the reservoir of memory. The sea is a myth. There never was a sea. But here was a sea! I tell you I was born on the seashore! I bathed in the waters of the sea! It gave me food and it gave me peace, and its fascinating distances fed my dreams! No, Arturo, there never was a sea. You dream and you wish, but you go on through the wasteland. You will never see the sea again. It was a myth you once believed. But, I have to smile, for the salt of the sea is in my blood, and there may be ten thousand roads over the land, but they shall never confuse me, for my heart’s blood will ever return to its beautiful source.”


How is the sea used as symbolism in this passage? What do you think of Arturo’s thoughts?
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Unread postby Parlez » Wed Nov 28, 2007 10:50 am

Oh, this is so lovely. Confusing, but lovely! :-?
It reminds me of the passage in Wait Until Spring,Bandini, where we weren't sure what it meant when we broke it down but it made sense as a whole.
It seems like Arturo here is jumping between his concrete intellect and his less concrete consciousness, trying to bridge the gap between the two. He knows what he knows (about his 'blood' and where he comes from) but he's been indoctrinated into refusing that primordial knowledge in favor of something else ~ namely guilt, IMO. That's what's been driving his identity up to this point and become a 'warm even rhythm' in his life. He doesn't want to let that go. But on the other hand, there's no denying the sea...the source...the murky, undefinable soup from which his essential being has emerged.

Okay, I need another cup of coffee to think about this one some more!
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Unread postby Betty Sue » Wed Nov 28, 2007 11:37 am

I think Arturo is using the sea to symbolize his faith or religion. His intellect tells him that the sea exists. He can feel it, taste it, luxuriate in it. It is a life force to him. It's under his skin. But can he prove it exists when he doesn't see it for years? His intellect tells him faith in God is a myth. His faith is also something that he has been immersed in, something that is a life force to him, something that has given him hope. But it is not always there. There were times when life was a "wasteland." So is it real?
Many of us struggle with the true God or mythology question. I felt that Arturo came to the same conclusion that I do in this struggle. Myth or truth, faith is in my blood and I couldn't get rid of it if I tried! "...my heart's blood will ever return to its beautiful source."
Arturo was trying to use reason to decide how guilty he should feel and seemed to come to the conclusion that, though he had sinned, he would be forgiven and could go on. (Then it all changed when the earthquake hit! :eyebrow: )
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Unread postby fansmom » Wed Nov 28, 2007 12:19 pm

I think Betty Sue put it beautifully, that the sea symbolizes his Catholic upbringing. (I can't call it his "faith," since he doesn't seem to have that.)

It reminds me of a discussion I once listened to between two close friends of mine who are secular Jews. Neither had been observant for years, and never intended to be in the future, but both said they would always be Jews in their cores, in their bones. Matzo balls, gelt, Yiddish lullabys. A bris for their sons, but no bar mitzvah. I think Arturo would always be Catholic in his core.

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Unread postby Liz » Wed Nov 28, 2007 2:32 pm

fansmom wrote:I think Betty Sue put it beautifully, that the sea symbolizes his Catholic upbringing. (I can't call it his "faith," since he doesn't seem to have that.)

It reminds me of a discussion I once listened to between two close friends of mine who are secular Jews. Neither had been observant for years, and never intended to be in the future, but both said they would always be Jews in their cores, in their bones. Matzo balls, gelt, Yiddish lullabys. A bris for their sons, but no bar mitzvah. I think Arturo would always be Catholic in his core.


So you two are saying that his religion is more based on culture, ritual and tradition more than on faith or having a relationship with the Lord? I would agree.
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Unread postby fansmom » Wed Nov 28, 2007 2:36 pm

Liz wrote:So you two are saying that his religion is more based on culture, ritual and tradition more than on faith or having a relationship with the Lord? I would agree.
That's certainly what I meant.

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Unread postby Liz » Wed Nov 28, 2007 2:52 pm

This is going to be more of a tidbit than an answer to the question. I just couldn't resist looking up sea symbolism after reading all of your responses. This is what I found:

Exile and the Process of Individuation. A Jungian Analysis of Marine Symbolism in the Poetry of Rafael Alberti, Pablo Neruda, and Cecilia Meireles by Lynda Jentsch-Grooms
Author(s) of Review: Candelas Newton
South Atlantic Review, Vol. 52, No. 4 (Nov., 1987), pp. 144-146
doi:10.2307/3200386

In the above review the sea is referred to as
a symbol of totality and projection of the unconscious.

The symbolism of the sea in Kate Chopin’s novel, The Awakening:

“The voice of the sea is seductive; never ceasing, whispering, clamoring, murmuring, inviting the soul to wander for a spell in abysses of solitude; to lose itself in mazes of inward contemplation. The voice of the sea speaks to the soul. The touch of the sea is sensuous, enfolding the body in its soft, close embrace.”

I have found the above to be true myself. Maybe it is just the mysterious quality of the sea and how we automatically react ot it. I've always found it hypnotic and mysterious.

Dream symbols from http://www.geocities.com/hairybobby2000/dreambookwater.html:

WATER : Water is an extremely complex symbol. It is quite often associated with the unconscious mind and the changeable emotions and intellectual ideas that we have. It therefore signifies something that is fluid and likely to change at any moment. Water symbolizes your feelings as they constantly moves and flows. Deep water can represent your subconscious feelings.

LAKES : Lakes in dreams are mainly symbolic of issues and parts of our lives. They are symbolic of the intuitions towards some issue. they may represent an emotional doubt related to some issue.

WAVES : Waves can suggest moodiness and emotional outbursts

SEA : "the unconscious mind and your feelings about people "


I thought this was especially interesting:

BEACHES: A beach is where the sea(symbolic of our feelings) and the land(symbolic of the facts about our life) meet. It therefore links to issues involving how things are working out in practice. It may show that we are holding strong feelings about some issue yet in practice that experience is not born out by the reality. It may also show that you are simply in a reflective mood about your life and how you are reacting to changes within it.

I think this may be what he is referring to when he talks about the sea being a myth and the land being the wasteland that is his reality. And I think he is struggling with his feelings and the facts of his own life, which include his guilt of the abyss of his sins (as mentioned below).


The Abyss:

On a blog I found a discussion about heaven, hell and purgatory, and somehow they got to the sea and referred to it as the abyss—nothingness, and that led them to mention the ideas of Nietzsche.

From http://www.whats-your-sign.com/symbolic-meanings-of-fish.html :


Water holds ancient symbolic meanings dealing with the subconscious and depth of knowledge. Water contains all the mysteriousness of the unknown.

In Christianity, the fish is a symbol of abundance and faith as observed in the Biblical story of fishes and loaves. There are also several Biblical references as Christ and his disciples being “fishers of men.” Here, man is represented as the transformational fish and the ocean is a symbol of the abyss of sin in which man finds himself.


In Dictionary of Symbols By Juan Eduardo Cirlot I found:

Abyss means depth in general but is also a symbol of inferiority.



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Unread postby Betty Sue » Wed Nov 28, 2007 3:08 pm

fansmom wrote:
Liz wrote:So you two are saying that his religion is more based on culture, ritual and tradition more than on faith or having a relationship with the Lord? I would agree.
That's certainly what I meant.


I have trouble pinpointing it. I think I would throw in, also, that it's based on emotion. No matter what his rational thought may be, he can't escape the feeling that God exists. I think that would be called faith. His relationship with the Lord, unfortunately, is rooted in the old tradition of Catholicism, the negative feeling of God wagging His finger at you rather than loving you through your problems.
Just read your lovely "tidbit," Liz. I think Fante had all of that in mind when he wrote this. And, of course, I like the way it brought in emotion. Personally, water certainly draws me in. We live on a river now, and I've lived on three different lakes. Bring on the sea!
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Unread postby DeppInTheHeartOfTexas » Wed Nov 28, 2007 3:26 pm

Nice answers all around so far today! Thanks for the extra info on the symbolism, Liz. I love the beach symbolism. :cool:

I think Arturo wants to believe, feels he should believe but he can't quite get there in his conscious mind and at the same time he fights it. Subconsciously those thoughts and feelings are always there and always will be.
Life is not a journey to the grave with the intention of arriving safely in a pretty and well preserved body, but rather to skid in broadside, thoroughly used up, totally worn out, and loudly proclaiming -

Wow! What a ride!

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Unread postby gemini » Wed Nov 28, 2007 3:29 pm

Ok. I am going to answer first and then read and see if I am in agreement today since I felt so sure I read this the way it was meant. ( At least I think so but I have been known to be wrong)

Yes, I took the sea as a symbol of his religious faith. Away from it awhile it becomes a myth just like his childhook religious training. He then realizes that his blood is salty like the sea and he carries it with him always, just as he does his faith.
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Unread postby gemini » Wed Nov 28, 2007 3:53 pm

I am reading this again after reading everyones great insight. I'm noticing things I glossed over before that I find interesting. He says
"This is bad, Arturo. You have read Nietzsche, you have read Voltaire, you should know better. But reasoning wouldn’t help."

" Sick in my soul I tried to face the ordeal of seeking forgiveness. From whom? What God, what Christ? They were myths I once believed, and now they were beliefs I felt were myths. "
He says both of these lines before he starts his comparison with the sea.
I may see something here a bit different from some of you because I was not raised in a particular religion.
"More of, it is the right thing to be good and "the do unto others" approach will make a better world." This is very simplistic but you get the idea.
I think Arturo's remarks about his reading and reasoning were an admission that his religion was part of him as some of you said more cultural more than something he could make sense of. It was his past and part of his family life and would always be part of him no matter how learned he became.
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Unread postby Parlez » Wed Nov 28, 2007 5:25 pm

Thank you so much, Liz, for adding the tidbits! :cool:
It appears we're all interpreting this passage according to our own particular belief systems ~ which is just as it should be! It's nigh impossible to escape the templates with which we have been brought up; they are in our blood.
I just want to add that I really like the beach symbolism too. In dream analysis, the beach is often seen as the place where the dreaming mind, or unconscious mind, meets the waking mind, or consciousness. It is considered to be the place where pure spirit becomes form. The beach represents the boundary between existence and non-existence, between knowing and unknowing, between our dream reality and our concrete reality. It's on the beach, symbolically speaking, where we can see both of those aspects of our being and where we have the best chance of resolving the duality and finding a sense of unity and peace.
Pretty heady stuff!
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Unread postby fansmom » Wed Nov 28, 2007 8:12 pm

Parlez wrote:I just want to add that I really like the beach symbolism too. In dream analysis, the beach is often seen as the place where the dreaming mind, or unconscious mind, meets the waking mind, or consciousness. It is considered to be the place where pure spirit becomes form. The beach represents the boundary between existence and non-existence, between knowing and unknowing, between our dream reality and our concrete reality.
So the beach is also the lotus tree in an Iraqi garden? How zen. :chill:

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Unread postby Parlez » Wed Nov 28, 2007 9:43 pm

fansmom wrote:
Parlez wrote:I just want to add that I really like the beach symbolism too. In dream analysis, the beach is often seen as the place where the dreaming mind, or unconscious mind, meets the waking mind, or consciousness. It is considered to be the place where pure spirit becomes form. The beach represents the boundary between existence and non-existence, between knowing and unknowing, between our dream reality and our concrete reality.
So the beach is also the lotus tree in an Iraqi garden? How zen. :chill:

I don't know, fansmom...I've never heard of the lotus tree in an Iraqi garden. (?)
But if you think it works, why not?! :cool:
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Unread postby DeppInTheHeartOfTexas » Wed Nov 28, 2007 10:13 pm

Parlez, I think fansmom is referring back to our disucssion of The Bomb in My Garden. Dr. Obeidi had buried the plans and some components dealing with Iraq's nuclear program under the lotus tree in his garden. In simplistic terms (there are others here who can give a much more eloquent explanation) in Middle Eastern culture and the Koran, the lotus represents knowledge that is known only to God and should not be known by man.

fansmom, you can explain it better than I can!
Life is not a journey to the grave with the intention of arriving safely in a pretty and well preserved body, but rather to skid in broadside, thoroughly used up, totally worn out, and loudly proclaiming -

Wow! What a ride!


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