Water by the Spoonful


Quiara Alegría Hughes

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Themes and Colors
Substance Addiction Theme Icon
Internet Communities and Human Connection Theme Icon
Family Theme Icon
Freedom, Identity, and Dissonance Theme Icon
LitCharts assigns a color and icon to each theme in Water by the Spoonful, which you can use to track the themes throughout the work.
Substance Addiction Theme Icon

Water by the Spoonful revolves around several characters’ struggle with their addiction to crack cocaine. They are all connected to each other by an online support forum moderated by an individual who goes by Haikumom. Although each character is at a different stage in the recovery process, in each of their cases, the play depicts substance addiction as a destructive force that lingers long after an individual has stopped using drugs, and which can only be overcome through long struggle, honesty, and the support of other people.

The forum members’ personal lives all demonstrate that substance addiction is destructive and very difficult to escape, costing them their personal welfare, their relationships, their careers—even their lives. The arrogant businessman Fountainhead, though once a wealthy entrepreneur, confesses that he wrecked an expensive car, lost his job, and has spent the last two years unemployed due to his crack addiction. His story demonstrates how substance addiction can wreck even the wealthy and lay waste to material success. Orangutan (a young Japanese woman) Chutes&Ladders (an aging IRS worker) and Haikumom (a Puerto Rican custodian) have all lost their familial and social relationships to their substance addiction and now live in isolation, emphasizing the wildly destructive impact of such addiction on one’s relationships with friends and family. The deadly potential of substance addiction is underscored when it is revealed that Haikumom caused her young daughter’s death many years before due to neglect; Haikumom left her daughter alone while she was sick so that she herself could smoke crack. Near the end of the story, Haikumom also overdoses and nearly dies, sending her body into cardiac arrest. Haikumom’s story is a particularly vivid demonstration of how deadly substance addiction can be, both to addicted people and to those who are dependent on them.

As powerful as the ruinous effects of substance addiction are, the forum members recognize it is a self-inflicted burden that can only be truly confronted when they take responsibility for their addiction and honestly call it what it is. Fountainhead, because of his ego, initially tries to convince the forum members that his crack addiction is only a small psychological problem, not a full-blown physiological addiction like heroin addiction. In this way, Fountainhead embodies the natural urge to distance oneself from addiction and not take full responsibility for it. However, Chutes&Ladders sees through Fountainhead’s denial. To break through Fountainhead’s façade, Chutes&Ladders ruthlessly challenges his self-diagnosis. Fountainhead finally breaks and admits to being a “fucking crackhead” like the rest of them. Once he does so, Chutes&Ladders suddenly becomes gentle and sympathetic, explaining that the only way he can deal with substance addiction is to lose all sense of pride or ego and take ownership of what he has become. In Chutes&Ladders’s words: “If you’re eating a shit sandwich, chances are you ordered it.” After finally admitting to having brought his addiction upon himself, Fountainhead admits to Haikumom over coffee that he lied to the group in his introduction: he has actually been a daily crack user for two years. Haikumom sympathizes with his deception and tells him that now he’s ready to start fighting it, again arguing that addiction cannot be fought until it is honestly confronted.

Fountainhead’s learning process and Haikumom’s relapse into crack addiction both suggest that, due to its overwhelming power, substance addiction cannot be successfully fought alone. Fountainhead is ashamed to tell his wife of his addiction and worries that it will worsen her already-severe depression. However, the other forum members warn him that he won’t make it on his own. When Fountainhead tries to insist that he can overcome his addiction independently through his own determination, tenacity, and love for his family, Haikumom warns him that those things are “pitchforks against tanks,” powerless against the ferocity of substance addiction. The group’s reactions highlight that a single individual is powerless to face addiction without the support of others. This message is tragically reinforced when Haikumom, after her son Elliot vindictively takes her computer—thus taking away her connection to the other forum members and leaving her alone in her struggle—has her first relapse in six years, overdosing and nearly killing herself. However, the story ends on a relatively hopeful note with Fountainhead committing himself to caring for Haikumom through her recovery. Although she is hardly conscious, she is no longer alone, and for the first time in years has someone physically watching over her.

At the end of the story, there is no definitive victory over addiction—both Haikumom and Fountainhead are still addicts, and it is implied that Orangutan and Chutes&Ladders will both wrestle with their past addiction for the rest of their lives. The characters’ situations at the end of the play reinforce the destructive power of substance addiction. As Chutes&Ladders tells Fountainhead, “I’m a crackhead too, and I wouldn’t wish it on my worst enemy.” Even so, Orangutan and Chutes&Ladders’s success in recovery, as well as Fountainhead and Haikumom’s bond with each other, implies that through honesty and interpersonal connection, people can still fight against substance addiction.

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Substance Addiction ThemeTracker

The ThemeTracker below shows where, and to what degree, the theme of Substance Addiction appears in each scene of Water by the Spoonful. Click or tap on any chapter to read its Summary & Analysis.
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Substance Addiction Quotes in Water by the Spoonful

Below you will find the important quotes in Water by the Spoonful related to the theme of Substance Addiction.
Scene Two Quotes

ORANGUTAN: The ocean reminds me of Maine. Cold water, very quiet, fisherman, boats, the breeze. I wouldn’t try swimming. I was never one to actually have an experience.

Page Number: 15
Explanation and Analysis:
Scene Four Quotes

HAIKUMOM: So unless someone gets that desperate they don’t deserve our noble company? “Suffer like me, or you ain’t legit?”

ORANGUTAN: Haikumom’s growing claws.

HAIKUMOM: Just don’t act entitled because you got so low.

Page Number: 26
Explanation and Analysis:
Scene Six Quotes

ORANGUTAN: Everything in this country makes sense but me. The noodles in the soup makes sense. The woodpecker outside my window every evening? Completely logical. The girls getting out of school in their miniskirts and shy smiles? Perfectly natural. I’m floating. I’m a cloud. My existence is one sustained out-of-body experience. It doesn’t matter if I change my shoes, there’s not a pair I’ve ever been able to fill. I’m a baby in a basket on an endless river. Wherever I go I don’t make sense there.

Page Number: 35
Explanation and Analysis:

ORANGUTAN: Maybe we could hang out and have a relationship that has very little to do with crack or addiction or history. We could watch DVDs and microwave popcorn and take walks on the waterfront while we gossip about celebrities. It could be the land of the living.

CHUTES&LADDERS: Stay in the box. Keep things in their place. It’s a simple, effective recipe for ten clean years.

ORANGUTAN: Forget simple. I want a goddamn challenge.

Related Characters: Orangutan / Madeleine Mays (speaker), Chutes&Ladders / Clayton Wilkie (speaker)
Page Number: 38
Explanation and Analysis:

CHUTES&LADDERS: Fine, when your son has a tummy-ache in the middle of the night and walks in on you tweaking and geeking just tell him, “Don’t worry, Junior, Daddy’s sucking on a glass dick […] but Daddy makes 300k and this is all a part of Daddy’s plan!”

FOUNTAINHEAD: I’M A FUCKING CRACKHEAD. […] Are you happy, Chutes&Ladders?

CHUTES&LADDERS: Absolutely not, my friend. I’m a crackhead, too, and I wouldn’t wish it on my worst enemy.

Related Characters: Fountainhead / John (speaker), Chutes&Ladders / Clayton Wilkie (speaker)
Page Number: 42
Explanation and Analysis:
Scene Seven Quotes

JOHN: I lied in my first post. I’ve been smoking crack for two years. I’ve tried quitting hundreds of times. Day two? Please, I’m in the seven-hundredth day of hell.

ODESSA: You got it out of your system. Most people lie at one time or another on the site. The good news is, two years in, there’s still time.

Related Characters: Haikumom / Odessa Ortiz (speaker), Fountainhead / John (speaker)
Page Number: 47
Explanation and Analysis:
Scene Eight Quotes

ELLIOT: Let’s not act like this is some heroic sacrifice. Like this makes her the world’s martyr.

YAZ: We’re not going to get more than fifteen bucks for it.

ELLIOT: Symbols matter, Yaz. This isn’t about the money. This is shaking hands. This is tipping your hat. This is holding the door open. This is the bare minimum. The least effort possible to earn the label “person.”

Related Characters: Elliot Ortiz (speaker), Yaz / Yazmin Ortiz (speaker), Haikumom / Odessa Ortiz
Page Number: 56
Explanation and Analysis:

YAZ: Why wouldn’t you ask me for help? Why would you deal with that alone?

ELLIOT: The opposite of alone. I seen barracks that looked like dope houses. It was four months in my life, it’s over. We’ve chopped up a lot of shit together, Yaz, but we ain’t gonna chop this up. This shit stays in the vault. You got me?

YAZ: No!

ELLIOT: Yaz. Please. Please.

Page Number: 59
Explanation and Analysis:
Scene Nine Quotes

CHUTES&LADDERS: Live in the past, follow your ass.

ORANGUTAN: Don’t you have the slightest ambition?

CHUTES&LADDERS: Yes, and I achieve it every day: Don’t use and don’t hurt anyone. Two things I used to do on a daily basis. I don’t do them anymore. Done. Dream realized. No more dreaming.

Related Characters: Orangutan / Madeleine Mays (speaker), Chutes&Ladders / Clayton Wilkie (speaker)
Page Number: 64
Explanation and Analysis:

ORANGUTAN: You mean, gasp, I’ll actually FEEL something?

CHUTES&LADDERS: What are you going to do if the address is wrong? What if the building’s been bulldozed? What if some other tenant lives there? What if the woman who gave you birth then gave you away answers the door?

ORANGUTAN: I DON’T KNOW! A concept you clearly avoid at all costs. Learn how to live, that’s all I’m goddamn trying to do!

Related Characters: Orangutan / Madeleine Mays (speaker), Chutes&Ladders / Clayton Wilkie (speaker)
Page Number: 65
Explanation and Analysis:
Scene Twelve Quotes

ELLIOT: Titi, Odessa fucking OD’d and she’s dying on her living room floor and I can’t take this anymore! COME GET US before I walk off and leave her on the sofa.

YAZ: If you need to, go. No guilt. I got this.

ELLIOT: She’s my mom. Can I be angry? Can you let me be angry?

Related Characters: Elliot Ortiz (speaker), Yaz / Yazmin Ortiz (speaker), Haikumom / Odessa Ortiz
Page Number: 74
Explanation and Analysis:
Scene Thirteen Quotes

CHUTES&LADDERS: Why are you there? Were you using with her?


CHUTES&LADDERS: Did you sell her the stuff?

FOUNTAINHEAD: No, Jesus, of course not. She gave them my number. I’m her emergency contact. Why, I have no idea, we’re practically strangers.

Page Number: 78
Explanation and Analysis:
Scene Fifteen Quotes

CHUTES&LADDERS: I got sick on the flight. Totally embarrassing. I had a panic attack as the plane landed and I started tossing into the doggy bag right next to this nice old lady. I’ve been sitting on the bathroom floor emptying my stomach. Then I had to find a toothbrush and toothpaste and mouthwash because I didn’t want to greet you with bad breath and all.

Page Number: 88
Explanation and Analysis:

ELLIOT: I wanted Mami Odessa to relapse, Yaz. I wanted her to pick up that needle. I knew precisely what to do, what buttons to push, I engineered that shit, I might as well have pushed the thing into her vein. Because I thought, Why would God take the good one? Yo, take the bad mom instead! I was like, Why wouldn’t you take the bad fucking mom? If I stay in Philly, I’m gonna turn into it. I’m gonna become one of them. I’m already hallway there. You’ve got armor, you’ve got ideas, but I don’t.

YAZ: Go. Go and don’t you ever, ever look back.

Related Characters: Elliot Ortiz (speaker), Yaz / Yazmin Ortiz (speaker), Haikumom / Odessa Ortiz
Page Number: 91
Explanation and Analysis: