Water by the Spoonful


Quiara Alegría Hughes

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The Ghost Symbol Analysis

The Ghost Symbol Icon

The Ghost primarily functions as symbol of the guilt that Elliot carries with him. The Ghost looks like the first man Elliot killed in Iraq, usually appearing and standing some distance away, watching Elliot and asking for his passport back in Arabic, which suggests that Elliot killed the man unnecessarily due to a misunderstanding. Although acutely, the Ghost represents Elliot’s guilt over the man he killed, it also more broadly comes to represent the guilt and shame Elliot feels about his life in general over his care for Mami Ginny, his hatred of Odessa, his dead-end job, his previous addiction to painkillers, and so on. Although the Ghost never touches or attacks Elliot of his own volition, when Elliot finally decides to attack the Ghost, they struggle until the Ghost gets hold of Elliot’s wallet and searches through its contents, further suggesting that what Elliot may have perceived as an attack when he shot the man was merely a misunderstanding. After the Ghost searches Elliot’s wallet, he touches Elliot’s face, exploring every feature with his fingertips. Elliot holds still, but terrified and seemingly making his peace with the Ghost by accepting the guilt and responsibility for what he has done.

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The Ghost Symbol Timeline in Water by the Spoonful

The timeline below shows where the symbol The Ghost appears in Water by the Spoonful. The colored dots and icons indicate which themes are associated with that appearance.
Scene Three
Family Theme Icon
Freedom, Identity, and Dissonance Theme Icon
As Elliot is writing down the customer’s order, a Ghost appears, speaking the same Arabic phrase that Elliot asked Professor Aman to translate. Elliot does... (full context)
Scene Six
Substance Addiction Theme Icon
Internet Communities and Human Connection Theme Icon
Family Theme Icon
...boxing gym punching a bag, coaching himself to ignore the pain in his leg. The Ghost stands a short distance away, watching him, repeating the same Arabic phrase. As the forum... (full context)
Scene Eight
Substance Addiction Theme Icon
Family Theme Icon
Freedom, Identity, and Dissonance Theme Icon
...Elliot insists that the only thing left from those days are night terrors and the Ghost, and that he’s not pathetic like the forum members. Yaz tries to press him, but... (full context)
Scene Fourteen
Substance Addiction Theme Icon
...the room to make a phone call, and as soon as she is gone, the Ghost appears. Elliot calls for Yaz but she does not return. As the Ghost reaches to... (full context)
Scene Fifteen
Substance Addiction Theme Icon
Family Theme Icon
Freedom, Identity, and Dissonance Theme Icon
...had a dream: he could feel someone behind him and thought it would be the Ghost, the first man he killed in Iraq, but instead it was Mami Ginny there to... (full context)