Water Names by Lan Samantha Chang is the story about a grandmother, Waipuo, telling her three granddaughters about a young woman, captivated by the idea of the river. The girl fell in love with the prince living under the water and disappeared after a flood; the grandmother’s story does not have an ending. This paper addresses the thematic concept in Water Names and explains how it is incorporated into the narrative.
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Thematic Concept in Water Names
It is possible to say that the tale can be interpreted in several ways because there is an open ending. Waipuo’s narrative finishes with the words that the girls’ family tried to find her for a long time but never did. Like the narrator, a reader may think that the story presents a happy ending, as the young woman “went to join the kingdom of her beloved” (119). Notably, it seems like her granddaughters do not understand how adverse the consequences of a desire may be, as they view it as a positive or a neutral issue. Waipuo does not say that this interpretation is wrong, but she offers an alternative perspective to her granddaughters, saying that the girl was probably seduced by a water ghost and “lost her mind to desiring” (119). The woman wants the girls to find the answer to the question themselves and understand the morale of her story.
These words allow the reader to identify the possible thematic concept in the tale, which is the dangers of a lure. The story says that being encaptivated by the image of something may be dangerous and lead to adverse consequences. Waipuo starts her narrative to help the girls to help them practice their Chinese, which shows that for her, it is significant that her granddaughters remember are connected to their cultural background. The old woman reminds her American-Chinese granddaughters about their ancestors, who “ran together, like raindrops” and had “the spirit of river” in them (116). Waipuo paints a picture of great women and men who lived together, and nothing could break them apart. She wants her granddaughters to understand the significance of being consolidated in the face of hurdles.
By explaining how the girl from the tale dreamed about farewell places, the woman tries to draw parallels with her granddaughters leaving China for America. It is possible to say that the grandmother is not pleased that her family has preferred a foreign land over their home. Her words about the beautiful ring that “would only be a bauble” in a different world refer to the popular image of America, where people are rich, and all dreams can come true (118).
Waipuo warns her granddaughters from being overly obsessed with this perception and desiring more than they can have. She addresses the feelings the girl had, saying that “yearning … filled her heart with sorrow and fear” and “put a spell on her heart” (118). Her story tells the girls that sometimes the lure is not always a good thing, even if people’s minds tell them the opposite, and that the outcomes of a frantic desire may be adverse.
One of the notable aspects of the story is that the young woman’s name is unknown. Waipuo introduces her as Wen Zhiqing’s daughter, but no other information about her is available. It is possible to say that it is done with the purpose of showing that once people are overly captivated by their desires, they are left alone and can be soon forgotten. The grandmother may want to make her granddaughters reflect on the fact that they have each other and should hold together, as, this way, they are stronger. Waipuo may be worried that the girls fight with each other and are “sisters in name only” and wants to convey the significance of being a family (115). The fact that the young woman from the tail became lonely in her desires is designed to transfer the grandmother’s idea.
Notably, the topic of lure leading to destruction does not seem evident when the audience reads the story for the first time. The reason for it is that no one, even Waipuo, criticizes the girl for falling in love and being captivated by the river directly.
At first, the fact that she liked the river was not presented as a negative one; the father protected her from dangers associated with the dark waters. This point may be linked to the fact that Waipuo’s granddaughters are still young, and their parents protect them from possible risks associated with their life in a new country. All they can see now is its beauty and people that are kind to them. As a result, the girls become more and more captivated with the image that may be untrue.
The Water Names is a notable short story presenting the thematic concept of the dangers of a lure. The story says that people’s desires may lead to destruction and loneliness, as the beautiful images individuals may imagine are not always true. The tail has an open ending, allowing the readers to decide whether the girl’s fate is a positive or negative one and find the morale of the narrative themselves.