Water is an important element in this world that brings with it freshness and purity in the lives of human beings, animals and plants. Its importance in the lives of human beings cannot be underestimated. In Robinson’s novel, Lila constantly comes into contact with water. The author has used the transformative healing characteristics of water to depict change in the life of Lila. Through the characters and scenes, the reader is able to learn the varied struggles of Lila with fear of love; faith, family, and domesticity with clarity through water which symbolizes change all which Lila interacts with water which regenerates his views and attitudes in the above topics. This is paper will aim at demonstrating the regenerative power of water as it relates to the Life of Lila.
The first instance using water as a symbol of change in the novel occurs on the opening passages which signify change of Lila from desperation and abandonment to life full of love and new material supply. Lila was rescued by Lila from the home she previously lived that was in the form of a boarding house. The drifter, Doll, had found Lila locked from the outside of the boarding house where it was raining and freezing cold. Doll was “like an angle” from the wilderness to the young desperate girl who had no hope and help (Robinson 1). Lila’s rescue, which can be equated with abduction through the rain waters, incidentally paints a picture of Lila as a neglected child who is “as miserable as could be” (Robinson 1). Throughout their entire run in the rain, she now developed a new sense of freedom, a new family, and a new lifestyle. The two had become inseparable, often traveling together in search of employment opportunities during the period of depression in the United States. Like other immigrants, the two were drifting all over the country looking for temporary work in the farms. They suffered hunger, abuse, violence and anger as they moved across the country. In their course of living, the gentleman is killed in a knife fight, and, perhaps, this sets a new dawn for contradictions in the life of the Lila. The salvation of Lila in the hands of Doll was both a blessing and a curse. She had survived her parents' cruelty, but she would not escape being alienated and being lonely- after his demise.
Doll's character serves as reinforcement to the changing nature and character of Lila later on in life. Just as he was restless, he was always on the move to the next farm, so is Lila in her pursuit for salvation. Lila's life is marked with exploration from being a Hotel maid to a brothel worker and finally to a Christian and a wife. She once tries to undo the baptism rite which had not been given to other immigrants she grew with. Lila's character is greatly influenced by the drifter as painted by Robinson. She is a useful symbol in representing the earlier years and the environment through which Lila grew in and the beliefs she adopted. She emulated her savior's character and values. Eventually, his influence is halted when she makes contact with Reverend Ames and she is baptized. This becomes the end of the influence the drifter had on her character and value system.
Lila's earliest memories of what salvation entails are people sleeping on the floor on gunnysacks. She had learned to find refuge under a table until the day the kindhearted man came along and changed the life she knew. She had been stolen into a more seemingly hospitable life traveling looking for a job. The travelers moved in small bands where there were scant structures and had no common religious systems to subscribe to. The travelers went without God for they thought "churches wanted your money" (Robinson 65). At one point when violence and crime occur along the way, the group scatters, and Lila finds work as a maid in a hotel. She later drifts to Gilead where she finds shelter from an abandoned shack. On a wet rainy morning, Lila goes to a church where Ames is incidentally inside. While in the Church, she watches Ames baptize two babies and hold them "gently in his arms" (Robinson 154). All these make her reflect the life of abandonment that she had experienced. She, therefore, concludes that rebirth through the baptism of water was the only way to salvation.
The rain in which Lila's salvation came while in abandonment was driven by acts of mercy by a total stranger but this was the true baptism. Nevertheless, the rain waters were a symbolism of salvation- change. The rain water did not bring true baptism. In fact, if anything, it only offered consolation from the brutal parentage she had experienced at a young age but was only a bridge, ushering her to a new life of misery. She, therefore, needed a true baptism which happened shortly later in a river organized and done by Reverend Ames. This sacred rite was to bring Lila a new hope, beauty and desire for true forgiveness in life. Unlike the rainwater which she had passed through when she was carried by Doll, baptism brought permanent change into the character of Lila. Later, it is this baptism through water in the river that preceded her new life as a wife, mother, and a Christian. Baptism was a symbol of solace and forgiveness that Christianity offered.
When Lila asked for baptism, Reverend Ames carried it with a tenderness which was typified in their courtship and marriage. The baptismal water made Lila experienced people with a new attitude from her understanding of cruelty, violence and crime. The Reverend carrying out the baptism was compassionate and kind. Before true baptism occurred, Lila concept of happiness had all along been "strange" (Robinson 167). The new freedom and salvation she gets at one point felt like a betrayal if it could not be administered to Doll together with the other immigrants she had grown up with through baptism. One who had tasted true water baptism like Reverend Ames had completely better lifestyles with "senseless courtesies" (Robinson 56). They were gentle and understanding, pulling chairs for the congregants. Water, as used in this Novel, is meant to depict a change of nature for a character. Robinson clearly demonstrates through the life of Lila that people undergo dramatic changes in their way of life through varied experiences. While some of these events may be unplanned for, the eventual outcomes lead to pleasures, pains, joys or sorrows. The presence of water as to the case of Lila is often a symbolism of change of character, values and belief system. It is also significant in finding the meaning of existence in life.
The simple conversation that Reverend Ames and Lila strike when they first meet at the Church when she goes to seek refuge from the rain sets the drama and stage for courtship and marriage for the two. A reader can observe that on the first day Lila heard Ames preach is the time Ames fell for Lila. It is the rain water that brought them together, the act of Lila seeking refuge in a nearby church building changed the course of her life. Robinson ties the genesis of the love affair between Ames and Lila from the fundamental question of the real meaning of human existence and happiness as they strike a conversation sheltering from the rain waters. They both have their struggles with Lila often wondering "why things happen" as they do while Ames wonders over the same question throughout his life (Robinson 29). As they sit down to strike a conversation and finding answers to their fears, they fall in love. Their love story is a symbol of questions of existence.
Ames responds to Lila's question by offering solace and forgiveness similar to that which Christianity offers. Similarly, Lila offers a chance to Ames, an old widower, a chance to start a family and have a son of his own. Ames had lost his wife together with his baby four decades before at childbirth and Lila proved to be the answer for his lost Hope. Through this love affair, one can see different lives of two people whose views of life, sin, and redemption are far apart but ultimately reconcile in the end. Lila ends up more graceful, happier and sumptuous. As Robinson puts it, the two were now "married and feeding on same hope" (290). Lila and Ames' marriage and observations are an expression of triumph over loneliness. Lila overcomes vulnerabilities through persistence in life and marriage, an experience that offers a symbolic solace to others experiencing similar pains. They will eventually win the battle and find "beautiful life" just as Reverend Ames did.
In major scenes that define the novel, the author has at least made reference to water as a symbol of change. She has demonstrated that water has regenerative capabilities that renew the life and character of a character. It makes the evil mind to be pure by cleansing and purify the soul, heart and mind. The characters grow in diverse landscapes, yet he successfully uses that to explicitly assert that individual circumstances should not end up condemning a person into eternal misery. The transformation that the reader notices in the life of Lila mostly is as result of coming into contact with water. In the end, Lila sums it all that she is now "married and shame is gone, and she does not regret" (Robinson 298). Marriage and her new found faith through baptismal water had brought her to the end of her misery just as Doll's rain water had brought salvation from her misery.
Robinson, Marilynne. Lila. Farrar, Straus and Giroux, 2014. Print.