Throughout ‘‘Average Waves in Unprotected Waters,’’ the settings of different scenes augment the plot by mirroring Bet’s feelings. Bet Blevins’s apartment is crumbling and provides the ‘‘feeling of too many lives layered over other lives, like the layers of brownish wallpaper.’’ The description of the place mirrors Bet’s feelings of suffocation and loneliness. Though there are ‘‘too many lives,’’ she is living hers alone and must act alone.
Later, in the train, the movement of the engine lulls Arnold and provides Bet with an opportunity to travel back into her memory. The journey motif occurs on two levels, on a physical level as Bet and Arnold travel to Parkinsville, and on a more symbolic level as Bet travels back in her own memory to ﬁnd answers about herself and her life. When they arrive at the state hospital, everything is sterile and white and the story states that ‘‘there wasn’t a sign that children lived here except for a tiny cardboard clown picture hanging on one vacant wall.’’ The environment elicits some action in Bet, who begins to tell the nurse that her son is a child who needs his ‘‘special blanket’’ and that he is not ‘‘vacant’’ but that ‘‘there’s a whole lot to him.’’ The sterility of the environment mirrors Bet’s perception of her son’s personality. She ﬁnds him vacant and sterile, and she attempts to explain away these characteristics and prove that he is special and that he does have a personality.
At the conclusion of the story, the train station is described as ‘‘bombed out—nothing but a shell.’’ This mirrors Bet’s life now that her son is gone. She has found identity as his mother and earlier as Avery’s wife and her parents’ daughter, but now, all these roles are completed and she is abandoned in a ‘‘bombed out’’ train station, without any of the roles that have deﬁned her. Like the train station, she is empty, suddenly void.
Though on many levels setting plays a role as symbolism in ‘‘Average Waves in Unprotected Water,’’ by mirroring and representing characters’ feelings and actions, the largest symbolic reference is expressed in the title of the story. The title, ‘‘Average Waves in Unprotected Waters,’’ speaks to Bet’s memory of her childhood at the shore, when her father ‘‘couldn’t arrange his day till he’d heard the marine forecast. . . the height of average waves in unprotected waters.’’ The marine forecast and the height of waves determined if the water was safe for swimmers. As a child, Bet’s father tried to teach her to body surf in these average waves, but she couldn’t do it. She just stood in the waves, ‘‘as if standing staunch were a virtue.’’ How does this tie into her life now? Instead of water, the ‘‘average waves’’ that appear in her life are the average troubles that appear in every life. They are the loss of a husband, the loss of parents, and ultimately, the institutionalization of her son. She is not the only one who has dealt with such troubles. Such troubles are ‘‘average waves’’ in the water of life. The symbol of ‘‘average waves in unprotected waters’’ acts as a metaphor. It simultaneously represents the true oceanic waves of her childhood memory and the rather ordinary troubles she faces in her current life.
Point of View
‘‘Average Waves in Unprotected Waters’’ tells Bet’s story from a third-person point of view. In ‘‘Average Waves in Unprotected Waters’’ this perspective accomplishes two things. First, it allows the reader to fully empathize with Bet’s motivations and understand her position as she institutionalizes her son. Second, it allows Bet to suggest the motivation of the other characters. Bet’s perspective induces the reader to believe that Arnold is both completely catatonic and potentially violent, that he has no personality and then that he may indeed have some distinguishing characteristics. Because of point of view, the reader is taken on a labyrinthine journey through Bet’s psyche on this difﬁcult day. The perspective provides unique insight for the reader into the inner workings of Bet’s mind, while leaving doubts about Arnold, the nurse who is to care for him, and even the absent husband. Are their personalities and actions accurately portrayed as they are ﬁltered through Bet’s perception and memory? Tyler’s choice of this point of view speaks about her motivations as a writer as well. She chose to look at the day through Bet’s eyes and engage the reader through Bet’s thoughts and feelings.
David Galens – Short Stories for Students_ Presenting Analysis, Context & Criticism on Commonly Studied Short Stories (Volume 17)-Gale (2003), Short Story by Anne Taylor