An Abundance of Water. A Psychoanalytic Reading.

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From An Abundance of Katherines by John Green:

"Colin took a deep breath and slid down, immersing his head.  I am crying, he thought, opening his eyes to stare through the soapy, stinging water.  I feel like crying, so I must be crying, but it's impossible to tell because I'm underwater.  But he wasn't crying.  Curiously, he felt too depressed to cry.  Too hurt.  It felt as if she'd taken the part of him that cried" (4).

To kick off this entry, I feel a quick summary and explanation of the quote is in order.  Colin, the intellectual child prodigy (can't you tell by the reasoning he uses), was just dumped by his girlfriend.  It is the morning after he graduated from high school and got dumped.  I really like how this book starts off with this image of baptism also, but enough of that.  Let's get to the good stuff.

I think that this quote exhibits a lot of qualities about Colin that make him a great character to psychoanalyze.  Colin Singleton uses reason to cloak his emotions.  On the first page, Colin thinks about the Greek philosopher Archimedes (who discovered water displacement).  Then in the quote that I picked we see how he reasons his way into convincing himself that he is sad therefore he must be crying.  Colin's reasoning ways and philosophizing is just a cover-up for his real emotions.  He tries to distract himself from being alone by drawing in all these references throughout the book.  What Colin does not seem to understand is the complexity of his own emotions.  Colin can't cry because he has passed his own emotional threshold.  Many people reach a point where they are so emotionally drained that they can't even bring themselves to cry.

As I mentioned, Colin is always reading absorbed in some sort of scholarly endeavor, so much so that he barely knows himself.  Think about it.  If you always do work or read or surf the internet you rarely get the opportunity to spend some quiet time with yourself.  Colin needs to withdraw a little from his up-tight ways and take some time to interact with others in a positive way (not merely a relationship where he constantly has to hear the girls say she loves him so he doesn't feel insecure).  

At this point his life, Colin is having a sort of "quarter-life crisis" for he is struggling with the idea of being alone (he is addicted to relationships) and also the idea of not possibly reaching his desired status as a genius.  His entire life is centered around impressing others.  He wants a girlfriend because he wants someone to constantly express how great he is to him.  He wants to be a genius because it is what people expect, thus it is what he wants.  Colin needs to learn, and by the end of the book does learn, that he needs to accomplish things because he wants to, not because he is expected to.  He needs to find happiness in himself before he can find happiness in others. 

As a last point, do you think that Colin is addicted to relationships?  Keep in mind that in the end of the book, Colin is again in a relationship with Lindsey.

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10 Comments

Greta Carroll said:

Angela, I really think that’s an interesting observation. I didn’t notice all the water references in the book until you mentioned it. Now, that you say that though I can definitely see them. The quote about crying and focus on water reminds me of The Bell Jar by Sylvia Plath. I don’t have the book handy (meaning it’s not at school), but if I remember correctly there was a great deal of water imagery in it. In fact, I think that Esther might have even had trouble crying. Do you think Green was aware of this and was trying to draw a parallel between the two? Do you consider The Bell Jar to be a Young Adult book; many critics compare it to and put it in the same category as The Catcher in the Rye. You also mentioned that Abundance began with an image of baptism, but why do you think Green would want to start the book with a baptism when the protagonist has just been dumped?

Angela Palumbo said:

I do not think that Green was trying to make a parallel here (although I could be wrong). I think he chose to start here because it is a hooking opening scene. From the start, we know that there is a big issue which in turn draws us in. This is not one of those books that you would want to just put down because the beginning did not catch your attention.

I do not really feel that I can give an opinion about The Bell Jar (I really did not like so my opinion is tainted). I guess, though, it is similar to Catcher in the Rye. If you think that makes it belong in YA Literature then it does belong. If given the choice between the two books, I would teach Catcher in the Rye. What about you Greta? Anyone else?

Furthermore, what do you think about the crisis that Colin is going through in the book? Is it fair of me to call it his quarter-life crisis?

It's certainly significant that he's newly single on the day he leaves his childhood behind. The baptism emphasizes his death to an old life and the start of a new one.

Derek Tickle said:

Hi All- What if we deconstruct Colin's habits? He dates girls that are names Katherine and he can't be without a Katherine. So, the opposite of being with a Katherine results in pain and emotions (crying). Now, what is pain and emotion? It is the basic functions that humans go through in life. Why are there basic functions? While because we are born with them? So, did Colin observe this type of relationship while he was growing up? hmmm... This leds into what Dr. Jerz said about baptism and how this begins with birth and turns into death to start a new beginning. He is also starting a new beginning by leaving high school and moving onto a new chapter in his life.

So, what do you think about this?

Greta Carroll said:

Angela, well, I personally don’t think that The Bell Jar is a Young Adult book despite the comparisons drawn between it and The Catcher in the Rye. I think The Bell Jar deals with more issues, is more complex, and is just more serious that The Catcher in the Rye. Nonetheless, I would rather teach The Bell Jar because I think there is more to deal with in it and I personally just think it is a better book all around. However, an interesting thing is that both of the books are coming-of-age stories, but are from different perspectives. One if from the female-side and one is from the male, so maybe it shows that both girls and boys goes through these struggles and can have the same types of reactions. It’s like in Abundance ofKatherines, Colin is not the only character who is going through trials. Lindsey has just as many crises as Colin.

As for whether he was having his “quarter-life crisis,” I suppose you could look at it that way. I look at a “mid-life crisis” though more as if the person thought they knew who they were and then they realized they didn’t. I don’t think Colin ever knew who he was to begin with or even thought that he knew. He tried to bury the absence of a grasp on his identity with many Katherines.

Angela Palumbo said:

Yes. I look at a mid-life crisis in the same way, however, I don't think that the quarter-life crisis would be the same. I think that a lot of people at our age don't really know who they want to be. I'm not one of them. I know what I am and I'm proud of that, Colin does not as you pointed out. What he thinks that he is is a person that needs to please others, putting himself last. He wants to be what he feels that others want him to be. Thus, Colin's quarter-life crisis is that he's been running a marathon and realized that if he wants to win the race, he has to pick up the pace.

Derek- I would deconstruct Colin by saying that he seeks out Katherines to love him and show him affection. Katherines, for the time being, help him love himself. This love, however, is never a lasting love and results in Colin's misery. Thus, for Colin, relationships with Katherines don't actually bring love and happiness, they bring pain. This is why in the end he has a Lindsey instead. So the definition of love is called into question here. What is love? In Colin's case, he thinks it is someone that will complete him. Can one love another when he can't even love himself?

Derek Tickle said:

I agree with you when you say that love brings him pain because we determine this when we deconstruct his life. The definition of love is similar to the definition of post-structuralism. It is based off of other things, such as emotion, and does not have one particular meaning. The same idea holds true for post-structuralism because it is a form of structuralism which does not have one definite meaning.

It is interesting that you said "Can one love another when he can't even love himself?" If someone does not love theirselve, then how could they love someone else. I think that Colin struggles with his own identity and trying to find exactly who and what he is and suppose to do. Once he would find this, then his love for other people would, most likely, grow and last.

Greta Carroll said:

It is interesting that you say he needs other people to love him to be able to love himself. I’m not sure that’s his problem. If we deconstruct Colin enough, we’ll find two conflicting sides to his story. Either he needs others to love him to love himself or he already loves himself too much and that’s what prevents him from having lasting relationship. One of Colin’s problems is also that he is so egocentric that he can’t even be a good friend to Hassan because he is blinded by his selfish focus on himself. Once Hassan and he have a big fight, Colin wakes up and stops being so self-centered. Do you think that part of Colin’s problem might be not that he can’t love himself enough, but that he loves himself too much, thereby preventing him from being in a real relationship and loving anyone else?

Katie Vann said:

I think your last comment hit a really important point Greta. Before, on someone else's blog (I think it might have been Derek's), I mentioned that I thought the Colin's obsession wasn't just with relationships with Katherines, but with people in general. The example I used was the exact example you used up above, the one of Hassan and Colin fighting because Colin realized Hassan wasn't so focused on him as a friend anymore. However, now that I read your comment, I can see how you noted the difference between having a problem because you want others to love yourself or having a problem because you love yourself too much. One way appears to occur when the person is lacking self confidence while the other occurs when the person has too much self confidence. Although I agree with the example you gave above that Colin's problem may have been that he loved himself too much, I think there are also hints that he really needed assurance from others that they loved him as well. Like with Katherine the 19th for example. It was mentioned that he would frequently ask her if she still loved him anymore. I think this hints at Colin's lack of self confidence when it came to social situations which he knew he wasn't good with.

Angela Palumbo said:

Good point, Katie. I agree with you. Although I think that it is an interesting idea that Colin could love himself too much, I don't think that is it. As Katie said, he seems to want that self-affirmation. The whole reason he wants to be famous is because he needs that recognition.

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