What is the significance of water throughout The Water Dancer? Why do you think Coates chooses it as the medium for Hiram’s power? 

Water is significant throughout The Water Dancer as a medium that both separates and joins people and states of being. Water as the ocean separates the African and African American people from their actual home and their ancestral home. Water is the medium of conduction that allows Hiram to help transport others. On a symbolic level, water shows the complicated relationship between life and death for its ability to purify or sweep one’s life away.

Expert Answers

An illustration of the letter 'A' in a speech bubbles

As the title of Ta-Nehisi Coates’s novel implies, the medium of water is significant throughout the novel. This significance operates both on physical and metaphorical levels. The idea of the ocean particularly matters, as the physical separation from Africa is especially meaningful for those who were born there or whose ancestors were taken from there to America. Because of the many deaths during the voyages, the sea is a powerful symbol of death as well. It is through the river water that Maynard perishes, an event that paradoxically yields Hiram’s rebirth as he learns of his power.

As Hiram discovers his gift for Conduction, he realizes that water is an essential medium for putting this power into play. Water is the appropriate medium for his power because of its close association with time and electrical power. The metaphor of flowing water represents the passage of time. The conduction of electricity through water is part of natural law. The time association becomes significant as Hiram’s power links past and present; his own memories and those of others, especially those who have been enslaved, are linked to his visions of a future of freedom—a future he is uniquely positioned to help Tasked people achieve.

See eNotes Ad-Free

Start your 48-hour free trial to get access to more than 30,000 additional guides and more than 350,000 Homework Help questions answered by our experts.

Get 48 Hours Free Access
Approved by eNotes Editorial Team