Jeff VanderMeer

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The Swimming Pool/The Empty Lot Symbol Analysis

The Swimming Pool/The Empty Lot Symbol Icon

The swimming pool and the empty lot illustrate nature’s persistence, power, and complexity. Both are key aspects of different stories that the biologist tells about the formation of her personality and interests. In the first story, she relays how the apartment her parents rented as a child had a swimming pool in the back. Because her parents did not clean the pool, it eventually grew moss and towering plants and became the home of dragonflies, bullfrogs, and egrets. Within months, it became a “functioning ecosystem,” which fascinated her and inspired her to become a biologist.

Similarly, the empty lot near the house that she shared with her husband became a source of fascination when an ecosystem grew out of a puddle—an ecosystem with fish, songbirds, lizards, and butterflies. The biologist spent hours late at night observing the plant and animal life in the empty lot. The fact that these two ecosystems were able to spring up in such unlikely places—in places that have been decimated by human activity—illustrates nature’s resilience and persistence. This parallels what is happening in Area X, where any attempt by humans to change or even observe the landscape is quickly quashed. This highlights a reversal of the common belief that humans have power and control over nature, instead suggesting that nature is far more powerful than human beings and far more persistent.

This point is further reinforced by the fact that the biologist becomes so engrossed in these two ecosystems that she’s nearly consumed by them; the same happens to her in Rock Bay when she is studying tidal pools. This illustrates nature’s power over her and mirrors the idea that Area X is similarly consuming her because of its power to transfix her, suggesting that the only way to survive Area X is to become a part of it.

The Swimming Pool/The Empty Lot Quotes in Annihilation

The Annihilation quotes below all refer to the symbol of The Swimming Pool/The Empty Lot. 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 Sublime vs. The Mundane Theme Icon
). Note: all page numbers and citation info for the quotes below refer to the Farrar Straus & Giroux edition of Annihilation published in 2014.
Chapter 5 Quotes

I didn’t tell my husband my walk had a destination because I wanted to keep the lot for myself. There are so many things couples do from habit and because they are expected to, and I didn’t mind those rituals. Sometimes I even enjoyed them. But I needed to be selfish about that patch of urban wilderness. It expanded in my mind while I was at work, calmed me, gave me a series of miniature dramas to look forward to. I didn’t know that while I was applying this Band-Aid to my need to be unconfined, my husband was dreaming of Area X and much greater open spaces.

Related Characters: The Biologist (speaker), The Biologist’s Husband
Page Number: 156
Explanation and Analysis:

There were thousands of “dead” spaces like the lot I had observed, thousands of transitional environments that no one saw, that had been rendered invisible because they were not “of use.” Anything could inhabit them for a time without anyone noticing. We had come to think of the border as this monolithic invisible wall, but if members of the eleventh expedition had been able to return without our noticing, couldn’t other things have already gotten through?

Related Characters: The Biologist (speaker), The Biologist’s Husband, The Psychologist
Page Number: 157
Explanation and Analysis:

Slowly, painfully, I realized what I had been reading from the very first words of his journal. My husband had had an inner life that went beyond his gregarious exterior, and if I had known enough to let him inside my guard, I might have understood this fact. Except I hadn’t, of course. I had let tidal pools and fungi that could devour plastic inside my guard, but not him. Of all the aspects of the journal, this ate at me the most. He had created his share of our problems—by pushing me too hard, by wanting too much, by trying to see something in me that didn’t exist. But I could have met him partway and retained my sovereignty. And now it was too late.

Related Characters: The Biologist (speaker), The Biologist’s Husband
Page Number: 167
Explanation and Analysis:

A swimming pool. A rocky bay. An empty lot. A tower. A lighthouse. These things are real and not real. They exist and they do not exist. I remake them in my mind with every new thought, every remembered detail, and each time they are slightly different. Sometimes they are camouflage or disguises. Sometimes they are something more truthful.

Related Characters: The Biologist (speaker), The Crawler
Page Number: 189
Explanation and Analysis:
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The Swimming Pool/The Empty Lot Symbol Timeline in Annihilation

The timeline below shows where the symbol The Swimming Pool/The Empty Lot appears in Annihilation. The colored dots and icons indicate which themes are associated with that appearance.
Chapter 2
Nature, Power, and Persistence Theme Icon
The biologist chose her career path due to an overgrown swimming pool in her backyard growing up. Her parents were neglectful, and so they did not clean... (full context)
Self-Reliance, Mistrust, Secrecy, and Isolation Theme Icon
...she told them that she was being bullied, they let her continue to observe the pool, day and night. One day, however, her parents couldn’t afford the rent anymore, and they... (full context)
Self-Reliance, Mistrust, Secrecy, and Isolation Theme Icon
Once, the biologist told her husband about the pool, which made him think there were more revelations to come. He said he would have... (full context)
Chapter 3
Nature, Power, and Persistence Theme Icon
Self-Reliance, Mistrust, Secrecy, and Isolation Theme Icon his friends. Observation has always meant more to her than interaction, like observing the pool, and she liked to observe the bar ecosystem rather than live within it. (full context)
Chapter 5
Nature, Power, and Persistence Theme Icon
Self-Reliance, Mistrust, Secrecy, and Isolation Theme Icon
...her and let her sleep. But she didn’t really walk far: only to a nearby empty lot , where the puddle had over time become a pond and she could observe two... (full context)
Objectivity vs. Subjectivity Theme Icon
The swimming pool, the Rocky Bay, the empty lot, the Tower, the lighthouse: these things are real and... (full context)