The Wanderer

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The Wave Symbol Icon

Sophie has a recurring dream in which a giant wave looms over her, ready to crash upon her, yet she always wakes up just in time before she’s crushed. “The Wave” of Sophie’s dream represents a tragedy from Sophie’s past: her parents’ death at sea. Though Sophie seems to have blocked this memory from her conscious mind, it nonetheless haunts her in her dreams, disguised as the symbol of The Wave. If Sophie faces an enemy in The Wanderer, it’s this wave which won’t leave her alone—the call of a painful past which she’s forgotten but cannot break free from. Realizing what The Wave means for her—recognizing that her original parents are no longer with her, and thereby owning the truth of her own history—is the hurdle which Sophie must overcome in her journey across the ocean. Though she might not know it in the beginning, there’s a reason why she sets out upon the sea: to uncover the truth of her past.

The Wave Quotes in The Wanderer

The The Wanderer quotes below all refer to the symbol of The Wave. 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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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.

I feel as if there were things inside me that were safely tucked away, sort of like the bilge down there, hidden under the floorboards of The Wanderer. But it feels as if the boards were blown off by The Wave and things are floating around and I don’t know where to put them.

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

Sophie writes this shortly after the last quote, in the aftermath of the violent Wave.

The sense that Sophie’s mind is divided between things she blocks out from her conscious mind (her everyday awareness) and things of which she is aware is further highlighted here. Sophie has blocked out the pain of her past, and what she’s consciously aware of are largely things she dreams and makes up, and which are therefore false beliefs (like her belief that her adoptive parents are her original ones). She’s conscious only of what it pleases her to believe, what she wants to believe, blocking out the pain of her past.

The floorboards Sophie describes are like a line that separates the painful stuff she’s blocked-out from what she wants to believe is real. It’s the line that keeps what’s blocked out totally inaccessible by Sophie’s awareness. The violent wave, however, has ripped up those floorboards. Reminding Sophie of the traumatic accident which killed her parents, the violent wave brings up pieces of her blocked-out memory of the accident up through the broken “floorboards” of her psyche. Things which were “safely tucked away” and “hidden” are now “floating around” like confusing fragments in her conscious mind.

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.

VI. Land Quotes

I reached across the bed and touched her hand. “Sophie,” I said. “Maybe that’s not Bompie’s story. Maybe that’s your story.”
Bompie whispered, “Sophie, he’s right. That’s your story, honey.”
Sophie stared at me and then at Bompie. She looked so scared and so little sitting there beside Bompie. And then she put her head down on Bompie’s chest and she cried and cried and cried.

Related Characters: Cody (speaker), Sophie, Bompie
Related Symbols: The Wave, The Little Kid
Page Number: 249
Explanation and Analysis:

This passage, written by Cody when he and the crew have arrived at Bompie’s cottage, is arguably the climax of the entire book. Before this moment, Sophie has spent a good deal of time retelling Bompie’s stories to him. With each story, however, when Bompie becomes submerged in a body of water—whether it’s the new car story, the railway bridge story, the swimming story, or the ocean story—Sophie makes sure to emphasize the fact that Bompie really struggled and had a rough time in the water.

Yet each time Sophie gets to this part, Bompie says he doesn’t recognize it—he doesn’t remember ever struggling in the water that way. Finally, Sophie tells a story about when Bompie was out at sea with his parents and a giant wave came upon them. She then stutters, trying but unable to say that the wave drowned Bompie’s parents, and Cody finishes her sentence for her. Sophie then gasps in agreement with Cody, but Cody and Bompie say that Sophie is mixing her own story up with Bompie’s.

Sophie, therefore, is gently encouraged to accept the truth of her past, the truth of her own story. Until now, she’s blocked it out and transferred it onto other people, like the “little kid” and Bompie. Now, however, Sophie has to realize that all the time she’s spent idealizing Bompie has been largely due to the fact the she thought, on some mental level, that he shared her history and her traumatic past—even though she’d blocked it out.

Sophie is finally left alone with her own truth; she can no longer project it onto anyone else.

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The Wave Symbol Timeline in The Wanderer

The timeline below shows where the symbol The Wave 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
...learning how to sail. Sophie then describes a nightmare she’d have of a towering black wave creeping up on her, nearly crushing her, but she always woke up just in time.... (full context)
II. Shakedown
The Mysteries of Life and Death Theme Icon
...get back to work to steering the boat: the wind had picked up and the waves started to swell. (full context)
IV. Under Way
Dreaming vs. The Real World Theme Icon
...her recurring dream about “The Wave” happened again the night before. She says that the wave, as usual, rose up very high above her, “a huge black wall of water,” and... (full context)
Dreaming vs. The Real World Theme Icon
...isn’t sure. The little kid laid down on a blanket and fell asleep, and a wave of water started pouring over the little kid. Before the little kid was swept away,... (full context)
V. Wind and Waves
Men and Women Theme Icon
37. Wind.Sophie writes about the violent wind and waves the crew is currently experiencing. She says that the waves are incredibly high—she even estimates... (full context)
Dreaming vs. The Real World Theme Icon
The Mysteries of Life and Death Theme Icon
...that the crew has lashed down every loose object on The Wanderer, and that the waves made it seem like she’s riding a roller coaster, but now the waves are much... (full context)
The Mysteries of Life and Death Theme Icon
...force-ten gale, the winds blowing at fifty knots an hour. She writes that the wall-like waves are pounding day and knight, and about every 20 minutes a wave fills the cockpit.... (full context)
Dreaming vs. The Real World Theme Icon
The Mysteries of Life and Death Theme Icon
...next two journal entries, she describes her and the crew’s encounter with a nearly fatal wave. Sophie says she was stationed on lookout, with Uncle Dock in the cockpit and Cody... (full context)
The Passage of Time  Theme Icon
Dreaming vs. The Real World Theme Icon
The Mysteries of Life and Death Theme Icon
50. The Wave. Sophie says that the wave, which she calls “The Wave,” like the one that haunts her in her dreams, had... (full context)
The Mysteries of Life and Death Theme Icon
...a new entry, that the crew is afraid to sleep—they’re afraid that the nearly fatal wave will return. She also compares her encounter with the wave to being born—in her mother’s... (full context)
The Passage of Time  Theme Icon
Dreaming vs. The Real World Theme Icon
Family and Personal Identity Theme Icon
...says that it’s frightening to be on lookout now, after her encounter with the giant wave. She also mentions that it seems like it’s been a hundred years since they were... (full context)
Dreaming vs. The Real World Theme Icon
Family and Personal Identity Theme Icon
...also says that Uncle Stew seems calmer and nicer, even now, after the nearly fatal wave, when there are so many things he could be worrying about. Stew even gets a... (full context)
Dreaming vs. The Real World Theme Icon
The Mysteries of Life and Death Theme Icon
...thinking about the dream of The Wave that she always has. She says that the wave of her dreams was exactly the same height and shape of the wave that happened... (full context)
VI. Land
Dreaming vs. The Real World Theme Icon
...little kids, but that was actually her uncles’ story. Further, she said the nearly fatal wave she encountered was black (like “The Wave” of her dreams), but it was actually white. (full context)
Family and Personal Identity Theme Icon
...a drawing for Sophie of her up in the bosun’s chair, swinging out over the waves. Sophie says she’s very touched by the gift, and wasn’t expecting one. (full context)