In my dissertation I assert that Wilbur's poetry is not so much an attempt to balance spiritual and physical realities as an attempt to mine the richness that exists in the boundary between the two worlds. I also examine and comment on his poetry that exists in the space created by other apocalyptic interstices as well.
Drowning is a frequent mode of death for female literary characters because of the strong symbolic relationship between female sexuality and water. Drowning has long been a punishment for sexually transgressive women in literature. In the introduction, Chapter 1, I describe the drowning paradigm and analyze drowning scenes in several pre-twentieth century works to establish the tradition which twentieth-century women writers begin to transcend. In Chapter 2, I discuss three of Kate Chopin's works which include drownings, demonstrating her transition from traditional drowning themes in At Fault and “Desiree's Baby” to the drowning in The Awakening, which prefigures the survival of protagonists in later works. I discuss one of these in Chapter 3: Zora Neale Hurston's Their Eyes Were Watching God. Although Janie must rely on her husband to save her from the flood, she survives, though her husband does not. In Chapter 4, I discuss two stories by Eudora Welty, “Moon Lake” and “The Wide Net.” In “Moon Lake,” Easter nearly drowns as a corollary to her adolescent sexual awakening. Although her resuscitation is a brutal simulation of a rape, Easter survives. “The Wide Net” is a comic story that winks at the drowning woman tradition, showing a young bride who pretends to drown in order to recapture the affections of her husband. Chapter 5 analyzes a set of works by Margaret Atwood. Lady Oracle includes another faked drowning, while “The Whirlpool Rapids” and “Walking on Water” feature a protagonist who feels invulnerable after her near-drowning. The Blind Assassin includes substantial drowning imagery. Chapter 6 discusses current trends in near-drowning fiction, focusing on the river rafting adventure stories of Pam Houston.