The Wanderer

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The Open Ocean Symbol Analysis

The Open Ocean Symbol Icon

Docked at Block Island and anxiously waiting to get out onto the open seas, Sophie says that she finds the ocean so alluring because “all of time is connected” when you’re on it. The ocean is therefore a place that, in its very nature, runs counter to many peoples’ ordinary, everyday experiences. The open ocean is turbulent, dangerous, and immensely far-reaching. You lose sight of land, and are surrounded by a horizon that seems endless. The sense of distinct days following one after the other blurs together, and time feels like one giant present. By bringing the crewmembers of The Wanderer out of their comfort zones and the familiar environments of their typical, daily lives, the ocean forces them to confront the mystery of their own existence. What is life? Why are they here? Is time a straight line or a circle? The open ocean represents mystery, change, and vastness.

The Open Ocean Quotes in The Wanderer

The The Wanderer quotes below all refer to the symbol of The Open Ocean. For each quote, you can also see the other characters and themes related to it (each theme is indicated by its own dot and icon, like this one:
The Passage of Time  Theme Icon
). Note: all page and citation info for the quotes below refers to the HarperCollins edition of The Wanderer published in 2011.
I. Preparations Quotes

And what I wanted to do was go on and on, across the sea, alone with the water and the wind and the birds, but some said I was too young and the sea was a dangerous temptress, and at night I dreamed a terrible dream. A wall of water, towering, black, crept up behind me and hovered over me and then down, down it came, but always I awoke before the water covered me, and always I felt as if I were floating when I woke up.

Related Characters: Sophie (speaker)
Related Symbols: The Wave, The Open Ocean
Page Number: 1-2
Explanation and Analysis:

Written in her first journal entry, this quote by Sophie highlights the “push-pull” dynamic which characterizes her relationship with water. On the one hand, Sophie is mysteriously pulled towards and called by the sea—it seems like Sophie’s had this attraction to the water ever since she was very little. Yet on the other hand, a nightmarish vision of a towering wave—threatening to crush her and sweep her away—haunts her dreams, suggesting that there’s something deep down in Sophie’s mind that pushes her away from the water: a deep-seated fear of the ocean which expresses itself in her dreams. While Sophie begins the novel always waking up from the dream just in time to escape the clutches of the wave, later in the novel, after she encounters a similar wave in real life, she ends up always getting swept far, far away.

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II. Shakedown Quotes

We are barely under way with our journey, and already everything seems more fluid and relaxed. . . . I’m ready to get out on the open ocean, though. I want to be moving, to be sailing, where it doesn’t matter if it’s day or night, where time is all connected.

Related Characters: Sophie (speaker)
Related Symbols: The Open Ocean
Page Number: 27-28
Explanation and Analysis:

Sophie writes this while she and the rest of the crew are docked on Block Island. Though she excitedly awaits getting back out onto the open ocean to experience its vastness and interconnectedness, Sophie already feels that her brief time on the water so far has affected her view of the world. The environment around her already feels more fluid and interconnected—not divided into ordered moments or events—which resembles her ideas of how life far out at sea might be. Thinking of the ocean as a place where all time is connected—where all of time is just one giant, eternal moment—Sophie clearly wants to escape the ordinary way of thinking which she associates with living on land.

Out here, there isn’t day and night and then a new day. Instead, there are degrees of light and dark, merging and changing. It’s like one long stream of time unfolding in front of you, all around you. There isn’t really a yesterday or a day before, which is weird, because then what is tomorrow? And what is last week or last year? And if there is no yesterday or last year—or ten years ago—then it must all be now, one huge big present thing.

Related Characters: Sophie (speaker)
Related Symbols: The Open Ocean
Page Number: 46-47
Explanation and Analysis:

Finally out on the open ocean, sailing on to Gran Manan from Martha’s Vineyard, what Sophie anticipated about the ocean—that out on it, all of time is connected—is coming true, and affecting her sense of passing time and life itself. Faced with a vast body of water expanding out onto a seemingly endless horizon, the sense of past-to-present-to-future is eroding for Sophie. The word “day” seems meaningless, as if the vastness Sophie is experiencing cannot possibly be measured by our conventional, rigid ways of ordering time. If the days can all blur together like this, and the word “tomorrow” is just a concept that humans make up in their minds, then, Sophie thinks, time must really just be “one huge big present thing.”

IV. Under Way Quotes

Here we are, well out in the big blue, rolling, rolling, sailing on to England. Out here, I feel as if the ocean is alive, as if it is living and breathing, and moody, oh so moody! Sometimes it is calm and smooth, as if it were asleep; and sometimes it is playful, splashing and rolling; and sometimes it is angry and knocks us about. It’s as if the ocean has many sides, like me.

Related Characters: Sophie (speaker)
Related Symbols: The Open Ocean
Page Number: 118
Explanation and Analysis:

Having left Gran Manan to head towards the main destination of the trip—Bompie’s home in England—Sophie writes this in the first days of The Wanderer’s long stretch across the Atlantic Ocean. Here, we can feel Sophie’s enchantment with the ocean: a moody body of water that leaps from sleepy smoothness, to playful, energetic rolling, and even to an angry thrashing.

Though Sophie points out the ocean’s angry side here, the ocean doesn’t yet appear particularly threatening, like it will later in the book. For now, the ocean is a site of transforming wonder. It’s not a stage of death, as it later becomes for the crew. Further, Sophie’s identification in this quote with the ocean’s multi-faceted nature—with the fact that it has many sides, like her—harks back to the first chapter of the book, where she says that her father describes her as “three-sided.”

I stared out at the water and up at the sky and had the strangest rush of feelings. First I was completely peaceful, as if this was the most perfect place on earth to be, and then suddenly the peacefulness turned into wide, wide loneliness.

Related Characters: Sophie (speaker)
Related Symbols: The Open Ocean
Page Number: 144
Explanation and Analysis:

Sophie writes this entry while The Wanderer is sailing from Gran Manan to England—the crew hasn’t yet encountered the nearly-fatal storm of the fifth chapter.

Here, the conflicted dynamic which characterizes Sophie’s relationship with the water reappears. Sophie, looking out over the horizon of the ocean, experiences both a sense of blissful tranquility, and then a sense of vast emptiness and loneliness. The water, for Sophie, has this central ambivalence to it. At one moment, the ocean calls to her—pulls her to it in an enchanting excitement—but in the next moment she fears the ocean, or it inspires feelings of immense isolation.

This ambivalence is the central mystery of the ocean; at once beautiful in its seeming endlessness, it is also terrifyingly powerful, and almost too vast, too limitless, such that it could mean human life is essentially empty and meaningless. Perhaps this mystery is what provokes so many of the philosophical questions about life which the characters raise while out at sea.

V. Wind and Waves Quotes

I was going overboard; I was sure of it. Underwater forever, twisting and turning, scrunched in a little ball. Was this the ocean? Was I over the side and in the sea? Was I four years old? In my head, a child’s voice was screaming, “Mommy! Daddy!”

Related Characters: Sophie (speaker)
Related Symbols: The Wave, The Open Ocean
Page Number: 183
Explanation and Analysis:

Sophie writes this passage after a violent wave has hit The Wanderer in the nearly-fatal storm it encounters en route to England. Here she reflects on her experience of being swept up by it.

The most significant part of this passage is perhaps the child’s voice that Sophie hears. We can infer that the screaming she hears is actually her own—that the screaming is part of Sophie’s past, of Sophie’s memory of being with her parents when they died at sea. We can imagine that when she was swept away from her parents in that tragic accident, a very young Sophie would cry out for her mommy and daddy.

And now that Sophie has encountered another, similarly violent wave at sea, it makes sense that—in the moment of being swept away—the traumatic memory of her parent’s death (which she’s blocked out from her present awareness) would surge forth to her conscious mind. This newly experienced sensation of being swept away must have triggered her blocked-out memory of being swept from her parents as a small child—a memory which reappears in a particular form: the voice of a younger Sophie screaming. Of course, Sophie does not recognize this yet. She does not process what she hears in this way; she simply reports what she heard, and leaves it at that.

It seems a hundred years ago that we were lobstering and clamming on Grand Manan and trekking around Wood Island, and it seems a hundred years ago that we were eager to get under way, oblivious to what lay in wait for us. I feel as if I have to start to love sailing again, because I don’t love it now. I just want to get to Bompie and forget about the ocean for a while.

Related Characters: Sophie (speaker), Bompie
Related Symbols: The Wave, The Open Ocean
Page Number: 200
Explanation and Analysis:

In the aftermath of the violent Wave, Sophie writes this journal entry as the crew begins to escape the nearly-fatal storm and regain control of The Wanderer’s course towards England.

The time-warping effects of the ocean on Sophie’s mind resurface here. Already having lost her normal sense of time by being out on the open ocean for so long, the traumatic storm she went through must have absorbed all of her attention. Causing her to think about only survival and the possibility of her death—about the present and the future, not the past—the storm must have halted all of Sophie’s thoughts about the past, which were already hazy enough because they were lumped into “one big huge present” of time. The storm has then disconnected Sophie from a sense of the past even more than the ocean already had.

Regaining a sense of control over the waters and refocusing her thoughts on getting to Bompie—and therefore putting the wave behind her, into the past—the time Sophie spent on Gran Manan now indeed seem like it was an unbelievable amount of time ago, separated from the wave’s attack by a rift of one hundred years.

Further, it is hard for Sophie to enjoy and feel confident about sailing again after being nearly killed by the storm. But Sophie and the crew must push on, and reacquire their sense of composure if they are to successfully make it to Bompie.

And I keep thinking about the wave dream I used to have. What seems especially eerie is that the wave in all of those dreams was The Wave—exactly the same: the same height, the same shape. The only difference is that the wave in my dreams was black, and this one was white. . . .
I can’t get rid of the feeling that the waves of my dreams were all pointing to The Wave that got us on the ocean.

Related Characters: Sophie (speaker)
Related Symbols: The Wave, The Open Ocean
Page Number: 208
Explanation and Analysis:

Sophie writes this in the aftermath of the nearly-fatal storm, as The Wanderer is on its final stretch to England. Perhaps the most significant element of this passage is Sophie’s connection of The Wave of her dreams with the violent wave she and the crew of The Wanderer faced at sea in real life. She says that the two are nearly identical in form, except for their color—and she feels that somehow the waves of her dreams were all leading to the wave at sea.

This last point is interesting, because it might explain two important things: one, why Sophie’s been having her nightmares about the wave, and two, one crucial motivation for her to embark on her trip over the ocean. We might say that Sophie desired to embark upon the ocean in order to master her fear of water, a fear represented by The Wave in her dreams. But why?

Well, if Sophie has blocked-out the memory of her parents’ death (when they died at sea in her company) from her conscious, everyday awareness, then The Wave nightmares might be a way for Sophie to relive, in her dream-world of sleep, that blocked-out memory in order to conquer it and strip it of its pain. If we accept this as the case, then the dreams in a way propelled Sophie to try and remember what she’d blocked out—to face and conquer her fear of water or The Wave, and therefore reconcile herself with her parents’ death.

If this is the purpose behind the dreams, then what does it tell us about Sophie’s motivation for embarking on the trip? When Sophie says that The Wave of her dreams pointed to the wave in real life, it suggests that she, on some mental level, desired to endure a trip over the ocean in order to face the fear that’s been the cause of her nightmarish dreams—to face the fear in real life. Sophie wanted to conquer her fear of the ocean on the ocean, to kill the fear once and for all—a fear caused by her parents’ death.

Last night, Cody and I got into this very serious talk about Life. We wondered if maybe people never die, but simply live on and on, leaving other planes behind. When you come near death, you die on one plane—so to everyone you are with, you are dead, but you—the you in you—doesn’t stop existing. Instead, you keep living the same as always and it just seems as if you’ve had a close call. We wondered if maybe we’re not each just one person, but many people existing on millions of different planes, like a line that branches off and branches again and on it goes, but it always has one central trunk.

Related Characters: Sophie (speaker), Cody
Related Symbols: The Open Ocean
Page Number: 210
Explanation and Analysis:

Having endured the violent wave and passed through the storm, Sophie writes about a conversation she had with Cody regarding, rather appropriately, life and death.

Since they both were the most injured by the wave—the most brutally swept up in its overwhelming force—Sophie and Cody have probably come the closest to death among the crew. Having had near-death encounters, their minds must subsequently be fixated on the fact that they saw their lives vanish before them, only to be saved because they both had their safety harnesses on at the time.

Their question about death—about whether one ever really experiences death, or rather just keeps being reborn on different “planes”—is therefore fitting. Did they actually die when the wave struck? Have they been reborn? While they do not give the question an ultimate answer, the fact that they’re raising it shows that the ocean has deeply changed them. They’re asking questions about the fundamental nature of life, of existence—they’re thinking about life in a way they never have before. Had they stayed on land and never ventured out onto the open ocean, it’s not likely they would be wondering if, in a single human lifetime, there are actually millions of different life-branches.

VI. Land Quotes

I’m not in dreamland or earthland or mule-land. I’m just right here, right now. When I close my eyes, I can still smell the sea, but I feel as if I’ve been dunked in the clear cool water and I’ve come out all clean and new.
Bye-bye, Bompie. Bye-bye, sea.

Related Characters: Sophie (speaker), Bompie
Related Symbols: The Open Ocean
Page Number: 267
Explanation and Analysis:

The last sentences of the book, Sophie concludes her journal with these words. Without going into any specifics, she claims to no longer be caught between the personality extremes which her father, as the first chapter showed us, has used to define her. By harking back to her first journal entry, Sophie gives a sense of closure to her journey. She’s changed from how she was before the trip, and she lives a more present life: a life not dominated by any one extreme of emotion, and which becomes freer, every day, from the painful past it once covered up.

Further, by suggesting that she’s been dunked in a cleansing water of renewal, Sophie subtly references the baptism of Frank’s son on Grand Manan. Though the baptism scared her back then—since seeing the people getting dunked triggered her fear of water—she now embraces the imagery of being baptized and reborn. Sophie is embracing the changes which, through acknowledging the truth of her past, are altering her view of herself, her history, and her world.

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The Open Ocean Symbol Timeline in The Wanderer

The timeline below shows where the symbol The Open Ocean appears in The Wanderer. The colored dots and icons indicate which themes are associated with that appearance.
I. Preparations
Dreaming vs. The Real World Theme Icon
...The Sea. The book begins with a journal entry by Sophie. She describes how the sea has called out to her since she was little, and how—despite being told she was... (full context)
Dreaming vs. The Real World Theme Icon
Family and Personal Identity Theme Icon
...the river, and they don’t understand why Sophie wants to leave to travel across the ocean. One of them says that Sophie just got here, and that she shouldn’t leave because... (full context)
II. Shakedown
The Passage of Time  Theme Icon
Dreaming vs. The Real World Theme Icon
...already feels more “fluid and relaxed,” but she’s excited to get out on the open ocean, “where time is all connected.” (full context)
The Passage of Time  Theme Icon
Dreaming vs. The Real World Theme Icon
Family and Personal Identity Theme Icon
...for Nova Scotia, and that this will be their first time out on the open ocean with no sight of land. (full context)
The Passage of Time  Theme Icon
Dreaming vs. The Real World Theme Icon
The Mysteries of Life and Death Theme Icon
13. Shakedown. Out at sea, Sophie writes about how her sense of time is being warped by being out on... (full context)
IV. Under Way
Dreaming vs. The Real World Theme Icon
Family and Personal Identity Theme Icon
...towards England. Sophie says that the intensity and immenseness of the project of crossing the ocean is finally hitting her, and she realizes that the crew won’t be able to leave... (full context)
Family and Personal Identity Theme Icon
...on the boat—she likes being in a self-contained group of people who can brave the ocean together. (full context)
The Mysteries of Life and Death Theme Icon
...calm, steady, level-headed person. Sophie writes that after Dock left, she stared out at the ocean and had a bizarre rush of feelings. First she felt totally peaceful, that the ocean... (full context)
V. Wind and Waves
The Passage of Time  Theme Icon
36. Bouncing. Cody writes a very brief entry about the sea rolling and bouncing, saying he wants to puke. (full context)
The Passage of Time  Theme Icon
Dreaming vs. The Real World Theme Icon
Family and Personal Identity Theme Icon
The Mysteries of Life and Death Theme Icon
...Bompie was young, he hitchhiked from Kentucky to the shoreline of Virginia to see the ocean, which he’d never seen before. He fell in love with the water, and decided to... (full context)
Dreaming vs. The Real World Theme Icon
The Mysteries of Life and Death Theme Icon
...dreams were pointing to the nearly fatal wave she encountered in real life on the ocean. (full context)
VI. Land
The Passage of Time  Theme Icon
Dreaming vs. The Real World Theme Icon
Family and Personal Identity Theme Icon
The Mysteries of Life and Death Theme Icon
...here, right now. Sophie says that, when she closes her eyes, she still smells the sea—but she feels as if she’s “been dunked in the clear cool water” and re-emerged anew.... (full context)