Themes

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Last Reviewed on June 19, 2019, by eNotes Editorial. Word Count: 364

The novel Freshwater delves into many themes as it explores the life of the protagonist Ada (or protagonists, if you include her alters) and the many different situations that she finds herself in. However, one of the main themes is the experience of living with what psychologists may call Dissociative Identity Disorder, which is when someone experiences such an intense trauma or multiple traumas that they develop multiple alters, or parts. In her Nigerian culture, Ada is considered to be an "ogbanje, a spirit child who is born repeatedly to the same parents, taunting and torturing them with many reincarnations" (The Guardian). This highlights another theme of the book, which is how a way of existing in the world can have different meanings depending on cultural context. In the US, Ada would be considered to have DID (Dissociative Identity Disorder), but in Nigeria, she is considered to be an ogbanje. Both of these can exist in the same person, just as Ada herself builds a life in the US and in Nigeria.

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Throughout the book, Ada and her alters discover each other, sometimes wrestling for control, and also evolve and at times work together, such as when Ada becomes aware of Saint Vincent, who is gentle and kind. At one point she decides she needs to tell one of her alters, who has taken charge and caused a lot of chaos in her life, to leave, which causes a lot of internal conflict because this alter, while sometimes destructive, is still a part of her that exists for a reason and is doing what she thinks is best to protect herself and Ada.

While this book is centered on a young woman with separate selves, another main theme is that of self-discovery and ultimately coming to terms with the many parts of oneself. A person doesn't need to have DID or be an ogbanje to deal with internal struggle, guilt, or self-destructive tendencies. Freshwater tells the reader that every part of ourselves exists for a reason, and if we want to change something, we have to first understand why it happened in the first place and foster self-love and acceptance in order to grow.

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