Waterland is a book of ideas more than it is a book of strong characterization. The architecture of the work is so intricately and carefully structured that it makes characterization of limited importance to the narrative.
Although his development, even as one of the two most fully realized characters in the novel, is minimal, Tom Crick is an interesting character. He is an idealist. He is the first person in his family to receive a solid formal education and is the first to be a teacher. His life is quite unremarkable until he decides to alter drastically the way he teaches history. Mary’s rash, psychotic act precipitates the end of his career, but it also provides the motivation for him to unravel to his students the long, intricate story that constitutes the central core of the novel.
Mary is more psychologically complex than Tom. The pull of religion and the pull of sex combine to lead her into difficult situations that generate in her a festering guilt. Her initial guilt is about her sexual curiosity. The next layer of guilt comes as she begins to have sexual encounters, and these encounters lead to her pregnancy, her abortion, and greater guilt. She withdraws from the world, becoming a virtual nun (Swift reveals that at this point Tom regards her as a Madonna). She tries to find in religion the means of coping with her guilt. When she finally marries Tom, he knows that she cannot have children, that he will have no issue. As...
(The entire section is 509 words.)