Rain and Literature: How Bad Weather Can Make or Break a Story
In a piece of artistic production (same goes for literature here), nothing is ever random, even weather. To put it otherwise, there has to be some symbolic value attached to the fact that "It was a dark and stormy night."
Singing in the Rain
Rain and Literature
Why do it? This is the main question that pops up when talking about bad weather in literature. Why would somebody want to have heavy rains, thunder and lightning, bone-chilling winds, and all the other disastrous natural phenomena in a story?
One obvious answer would be: every story needs some kind of setting. However, when it comes to weather and literature, it is not just weather. On a more symbolic level, it's never just rain. Without trying to generalize, there has to be something more in a literature piece when the weather is sunny, warm, cold, etc. This naturally has to do with creating the atmosphere. I am pretty sure that Singing in the Rain would not have been that successful if it didn't . . . well, rain.
Noah and His Ark
Now that you know everything that is to it when talking about rain and literature, I think it is important to talk more about the why.
So when it comes to bad weather in literature, water is the keyword here. As I am sure you have noticed, they don't call Earth the Blue Planet for nothing (nice wordplay there, if I can say so myself). As time goes by, water bites land away, which makes the flood one of humanity's greatest fears. On the other hand, there are other stories where man reclaims land from the sea (check the Netherlands, for example).
Coming back to the rain and literature discussion, the most famous story that talks about a catastrophic flood is Noah's. There is no need to get into details here: God gets angry, sends down massive rains, Noah builds his ark, saves animals, sends out the dove, the rainbow appears, and everything gets back to normal. Doing a little bit of interpretative work on the biblical story, it is clear here that God does not want us to go extinct, no matter how angry he gets. Combining that with our fear of drowning, the happy ending in Noah's story comes as a great relief.
This is but one example of many when it comes to bad weather in literature. As you can see, exploiting one of the fundamental fears of men makes an incredibly good story. This is what made Noah, his ark, and even the quest for finding it in the "real world" so vivid.
Since we are still in prehistoric times, thunderstorms must have been pretty scary for your average caveman. Even now, young children are getting scared of those loud noises. That way, bad weather and literature go hand in hand when it comes to creating the atmosphere.
Rain as a Plot Device
Not only does rain help create the atmosphere, it also sets up the plot. In that sense, rain and literature go hand in hand. Would Noah still build the ark if it wasn't for the flood? Most likely not.
But since the Bible is not the only place to turn to when it comes to bad weather and literature, let us take a more personal example:
"As I was biking towards some place in Amsterdam, it started raining heavily all of the sudden. In fact, it was raining so hard that I had to take shelter somewhere. After a couple of minutes, another guy came and he was soaking wet. Since we did not have any place to go, and since the rain didn't seem to stop, we started talking to one another. What we talked is less important from what I am trying to show here. We started talking to each other about our lives and other problems."
As it is noticeable, rain forced us into these circumstances.
Simba Becomes King During a Storm
In the end, what is rain good for? So far we have seen that:
- It helps create the stage.
- It has a dark side to it—fear of getting drowned.
- It is used as a device to advance the plot of a story.
Apart from these, let us further explore the symbolic nature of rain. For instance, rain helps to purify the air. Or, on the other hand, it can create a lot of mud and dirt. Departing from the previous two points, it is safe to assume the following:
- A character can cleanse himself by walking or standing in the rain.
- Contrarily, the character can fall in the mud and get dirty.
The restorative nature of rain is also strongly connected with the previous points. For example, in the first part of The Lion King, when Simba defeats Scar, rain washes down the fire and signals the birth of the new king. Coming back once more to Noah and his ark, the role of water is seen here as twofold: for once, it can destroy the world, but recreate it at the same time.
Spring rains make the world blossom again. Especially in May. But what happens when T.S. Eliot, in his well-known poem The Wasteland begins with "April is the cruelest month"?
Let us break it down into small points. Basically, what Eliot is doing here is playing with our expectations of spring, rain, and so on. Without going into much detail, The Wasteland is a poem about infertility, so that explains why April is, indeed, the cruelest month. Again, by looking at the title, The Wasteland is a great example of fertile earth. Perhaps there is no better example of an ironic play of rain and literature.
What You Need to Know
We are talking literature here, so on a symbolic level, rain is never just rain.
- Rain creates the proper setting for a story.
- Spices up the atmosphere.
- It can be capable of both destruction and rejuvenation.
- It can be used as an ironic device (see T.S. Eliot).
- Each storm is followed by a rainbow.
Literature and Rainbows
After all this talk about doom, gloom, and rain, one should be aware that after each rain, a rainbow pops out.
The rainbow is the aftermath of a thunderstorm. Although we scientifically can demonstrate how a rainbow occurs, in literature, things are a bit different. Rainbows signify the ultimate peace between nature and man. Remember Noah? He also saw a rainbow when he found land. Ultimately, rainbows and storms go hand in hand.