Deep Water By William Douglas
The excerpt ‘Deep Water’ is taken from Of Men and Mountains by William Douglas. It reveals how as a young boy William Douglas nearly drowned in a swimming pool. In this essay, he talks about his fear of water and thereafter, how he finally overcame it. As you read the essay, you will notice that the autobiographical part of the selection is used to support his discussion of fear.
The essay is a beautiful psychological analysis of fear and its focus is on the first-person narrative style.
About the Author
William Douglas (1898-1980) was born in Maine, Minnesota. After graduating with a Bachelors of Arts in English and Economics, he spent two years teaching high school in Yakima. However, he got tired of this and decided to pursue a legal career. He met Franklin D. Roosevelt at Yale and became an adviser and friend to the President. Douglas was a leading advocate of individual rights. He retired in 1975 with a term lasting thirty-six years and remains the longest-serving Justice in the history of the court.
Summary of Deep Water
In the essay, ‘Deep Water’, the author talks about his fear of water and how he overcame it. He reveals how he had feared it ever since he was three or four years old and how his father had taken him to a beach in California. He was terrified of the sheer force of the waves that swept over the beach and knocked him down, leaving him breathless.
He decided to learn how to swim at the YMCA pool when he was ten or eleven years of age, and though the sight of the water revived unpleasant memories he was determined to overcome them and learn to swim. For a few days he managed to ape others at the pool and with the assistance of the water wings that he had, he was able to paddle comfortably in the pool.
One day, however, while he was sitting on the side of the pool waiting for others to come, a bigger boy quite unaware that he did not know how to swim flung him into the deep end of the pool. What transpired next was nothing short of a nightmare for the author, who made three vain attempts to rise to the surface of the pool after hitting the bottom, but each time he came within inches of reaching the surface before he sank to the bottom again. William Douglas describes how fear immobilized him making his limbs deaden and unresponsive, till he finally fainted.
He lived with the fear of water for many years and this haunting anxiety ruined all his fishing trips and all activities related to water sports or even activities, which were in the proximity of water. Finally one October, he decided to hire the services of an instructor and master swimmer. Initially, the instructor put a belt around him and the attached rope went through a pulley that ran on an overhead cable. He held on to the rope and the author went back and forth across the pool hour after hour, day after day till he began to get back his confidence, In addition, the instructor made him practice kicking his legs in water by the side of the pool until he finally learned to relax. Thus, through sheer willpower and practice, William Douglas overcame his fear of water and became a swimmer. Though the instructor was satisfied with his progress, he on many an occasion felt the old fear of water return and hence he continued relentlessly to swim in different places till he felt that he had to a large extent mastered it.
To test whether he had lost all the vestiges of panic and fear, the author went up to the Tieton, to Conrad Meadows, up the Conrad Creek Trail to Mead Glacier, and camped in the high meadows by the side of the Warm Lake. He dived into it and swam across it and was overjoyed to learn that he had at last conquered his fear of water.
To the author, this experience was one that represented a brush with death which in turn produced in him an intense desire to live. It egged him on to fight the fears that haunted him and paralysed him and made him victorious. This narrative is indeed a saga of courage, grit, patience and determination and a lesson to us that any fear can be overcome provided one perseveres.
1. What is the theme of Deep Water?
Ans. The theme of the essay is the personal account of experiencing fear in real life and the steps taken to overcome it.
2. What is the sub-theme of the essay?
Ans. The essay is a beautiful psychological analysis of fear and its focus is on the first-person narrative style.
3. Comment on the style of the essay?
Ans. The essay focuses on the first-person narrative style.
4. What is the misadventure that William Douglas speaks about?
Ans. How he was thrown into a pool by a big boy quite unaware that he did not know how to swim.
5. How did the instructor “build a swimmer” out of Douglas?
Ans. The instructor made him practise swimming for a long period regularly until he gained his willpower.
6. How did Douglas make sure that he conquered the old terror?
Ans. He continued to swim relentlessly in different places until he felt that he had to a large extent mastered it.
7. What thoughts of Roosevelt deeply impacted Douglas?
Ans. “All we have to fear is fear itself”.
8. How did Douglas apply Roosevelt’s thoughts to his own life?
Ans. The author had experienced both the sensation of dying and the terror that fear of it can produce.
9. Why does Douglas as an adult recount a childhood experience of terror and his conquering of it?
Ans. Because this experience egged him on to fight the fears that haunted and paralysed him and he emerged victoriously.
10. What larger meaning does Douglas draw from this experience?
Ans. Any fear can be overcome if one perseveres.
11. How did Douglas get rid of all the residual fear that he had of water?
Ans. The author went up to the Tieton, to Conrad Meadows, up the Conrad Creek Trail to Mead Glacier, and camped in the high meadows by the side of the Warm Lake. He dived into it and swam across it and was overjoyed to learn that he had at last conquered his fear.
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