LadyIn The Water and Native American Literature
Theessay looks to find the things that are common between these twotopics – Lady in the Water (movie by M Night Shyamalan) and NativeAmerican Literature. Then, find out how they connect to each other.This is particularly important because the movie itself is anAmerican production, therefore, making it a product of modernAmerican literature in the form of a movie. The Native Americanliterature, as analyzed by authors Marmon Silko and Paula Gunn Allen,allow understanding of the tribal literature.
Aftergoing through the movie and learnings from the books by Silko andAllen, a few things stood out:
The women centric culture that is reflected in Native American culture
Native American tale about nymphs which is similar to what the movie is doing
Tribal tales are full of anachronism, just like the movie which switches back and forth with narratives. Multi layered depiction of characters is prevalent throughout
Onekey word that could summarize the essence of the Native Americanliterature is ‘gynocratic’and women power. Native Americans put a lot of emphasis on empoweringwomen (Snodgrass 2011). Contrasting this with the way the worldcivilizations have developed, and how it stands today, women may notbe all that empowered. In fact, the phrase “it’s a man’s world”sums up the situation we have today.
Themovie ‘LadyIn The Water’(2006) has a simple story. The story revolves around a nymph calledas Story. She is from a world called ‘Blue World’ and she needsto return to her world. She is somehow trapped in the regular worldthat regular humans live in. There is something called as a ‘Scrunt’that is preventing her from returning to her world. This is the cruxof the story.
Theentire movie revolves around Story, and how others should help herreturn to her home world. A lot of characters are involved, with someof them turning out to be bad, and some others turning out to begood. There are definitely strong connections to Native Americanculture, and by extension to the Native American literature.
Themovie works on multiple levels, just like tribal narratives would.For instance, here is a phrase from the book by Allen which says,“Traditionaltribal narratives possess a circular structure, incorporating eventwithin event, piling meaning upon meaning, until the accretionfinally results in a story”.(Allen 2). The movie is directed by M Night Shyamalan, who likes towork with characters that have multiple meanings. The narrative alsohas multiple meanings, just like the tribal narratives.
NativeAmerican narrative puts a strong emphasis on the role of women inevery story (Snodgrass 2011). The literature talks about being onewith the universe, and here also the women take prominence. In themovie also, the central role is played by a female character. Theportrayal is sort of demeaning and also empowering at the same time.
Forinstance, throughout the movie, the primary objective is to get Storyback to her water world. For reasons that are never explained, shecannot do this alone. In fact, it is made very clear that in order toreturn she needs four characters – Symbolist, Guardian, Guild and aHealer LadyIn The Water (2006).The weird part of this setup is that most of these roles seem to beplayed by men. Eventually, when the movie wraps up, these entireroles end up being portrayed by male characters.
Onone side, the female character is central to the narrative. Withouther, there is no story to tell and so there would be no movie. Theentire narrative depends on her. The second most important characteris ClevelandHeep, who seems to have lost everything. He finds new purpose in lifeafter meeting Story, the nymph. In many ways, Story is probably theonly reason why Heep even bothers to live his life. This is theempowering part of the story.
Thereis also the Scrunt character which is hell bent on attacking her,probably wanting to kill her. This could be a symbolism for thegeneral interpretation of woman being the weaker sex. She is alwaysunder threat from strong women who look at them as objects. In themovie, the Blue World peacekeepers make it clear that Story need notbe hurt by anyone. This is similar to how the society demands thatwomen be respected (Snodgrass2011). However,some people harm women anyway, just like the Scrunt wishes to harmStory.
TheNative American literature puts tradition at the forefront ofeverything (Allen 59). Tradition can be interpreted as a way ofthings. In fact, this tradition takes precedence of the maincharacter of the narrative as well. In the movie, there are a certainnumber of steps that have to be done before Story can return. Even ifshe is ready to return, she has to follow certain procedures.
Theseprocedures involve the four characters – Symbolist,Guardian, Guild and a Healer. Once these characters are present,there will be some kind of battle with the main villain, and also theTartutic,who are the peacekeepers LadyIn The Water (2006).Ofcourse, there is a giant eagle that will come and ferry Story home.This is definitely like a ritual that is no different than therituals that find a lot of mention in Native American Literature.
Thereis another interesting story that is available online, in the form ofNative American legends about water creatures. It’s called ‘TheMermaid – A Sikkani Tale’ a story that also talks about a mangetting involved with some water based legend female companion.(Casey 2012). While the stores have a different plot, thesimilarities are also there: A woman coming out of water and findinga male companion who ends up liking her.
Aswith any other Native American tale, this tale also talks aboutfollowing rituals to the core. The emphasis is also on the femalecharacter. All of this is in line with what we have come to expectfrom the tribal literature.
Lookingat the movie ‘LadyIn The Water’from a Native American perspective is an interesting literaryexercise. On one side we have a Hollywood, big budget production thathas nothing to do with Native American culture. On the other side,the similarities that exist between the story here and the manyconcepts that are prevalent in tribal stories cannot be dismissed. Itis also understood from the above discussion that Native Americansput a strong emphasis on giving women the highest role in theirsociety. They also have literature that is passed on from onegeneration to the next through oral stories.
Ladyin the Water.Warner Home Video, 2006. Film.
Allen,Paula. Art,the Image, and Culture.Print
Snodgrass,Mary Ellen.Leslie Marmon Silko: A Literary Companion.Jefferson, N.C.: McFarland, 2011. Print.
Casey,NativeAmerican Mermaid Stories: The Mermaid – A Sikanni Tale, 2012.Print.