Water represents life—primarily as an individual’s capacity to give, sustain, and enjoy life. When Odessa is a young mom, she cares for her children who have been dehydrated by the flu by giving them each a spoonful of water every five minutes—enough to keep them hydrated but small enough doses that their bodies can absorb it rather than reject it. Although Odessa manages this for a time, giving her children life a spoonful at a time, she eventually succumbs to her need to smoke crack, leaving her children alone and causing the death of her toddler daughter due to dehydration. After Elliot recounts this story and intentionally pushes Odessa to relapse for the first time in six years, Odessa sits on the floor of her living room and pours a cup of water onto the floor, spoonful by spoonful (an allusion to the play’s title), representing her own life being poured out onto the ground and wasted without offering life or sustenance to everyone else. In the final scene, when Elliot and Yaz are in Puerto Rico to spread Mami Ginny’s ashes, they stand perched above a waterfall and reveal to each other the major life changes they are each about to undertake. In this instance, the waterfall and its torrent of water represent the rushing onset of new life and reinvigoration that each of their new life paths will give them, as well as celebrating Mami Ginny’s life-giving legacy. Rather than water by the spoonful, both Yaz and Elliot experience a great surge of water and life.
The timeline below shows where the symbol Water appears in Water by the Spoonful. The colored dots and icons indicate which themes are associated with that appearance.