It would be fair to say that when it comes to literature and fiction writing, there isn’t anything you read on a printed page that the author hasn’t included in their prose on purpose. From character names to location settings to chapter lengths, every single element of a literary creation is intentional, and that includes the weather that each and every scene is set within. One particular type of weather that is traditionally used by authors to portray specific themes, messages, and circumstance is rain. In this essay, I will attempt to explore the variety of ways that authors depend on the use of rain in their work to express different messages. Here is an examination of the symbolism of rain within literature.
One of the most obvious and commonly repeated uses of rain within a narrative story is to attempt to portray a mood for the entire scene. For example, a dark and stormy night feels like a much more impending and sinister setting than a clear, quiet, calm air. In these instances, the presence of rain is no coincidence in the narrative. The weather is described as so because the author wants to extend the feelings and emotions of their characters beyond the limitations of the human. This is a device known as pathetic fallacy, and it is one of the most classic and effective literary devices to employ to inject extra tone and atmosphere into written prose. Incessant, slow rain can symbolise sadness, thunderous rain can symbolise anger, rain with punctuations of lightning can symbolise something potentially supernatural or magical. For talented writers with an understanding of nuance, something as seemingly simple and singular as rain can be used in a variety of interesting and different ways.
In terms of specific examples, let us begin with a Biblical tale known all over the world in various different formats: the tale of Noah and his Ark. In the traditional telling of the story, God sends a catastrophic rain to the earth to rid the world of the sins that have been accumulated over time, leaving only Noah, his family, and the animals that he saved for the process of recreation to survive thanks to the ark that he built. In this instance, the rain serves a double meaning in terms of symbolism;firstly as the destroying force that wreaks havoc upon the deserving world, and then secondly, when looked at in the aftermath, as this wave of change that comes to the earth that provides Noah and the chosen ark occupants with a fresh start. A rain that can be seen on one hand as a destructive force, and on the other hand as a cleansing, restorative force, all in the same story.
Another use for rain that can be identified in a specific literary example is Charles Dickens’ 1859 historical novel A Tale of Two Cities. Upon more intense analysing of the narrative, readers will notice that rain, heavy storm rain in particular, is used as a device to foreshadow any unpleasant action or scene that is about to commence. The ominous feeling of oncoming rain, the kind of image that it creates in one’s mind, is the perfect atmosphere for an author to create before they unleash a dramatic or upsetting scene on their readers. Once you start to recognise this pattern in the prose, the rain can start to act as an indicator that trouble is not far ahead.
To end with some more general observations about rain in literature, another effective use is the notion that activities conducted outdoors, in the rain, are somehow activities that are deemed to be rule breaking or outside of the norm. Common sense dictates that rainy weather is something to actively avoid being caught in, therefore if characters within a story are choosing to be out in such weather, they are doing something unconventional. This could relate to such plot points as illicit meetings, rebellious spirits, or urgent actions that need to be completed regardless of the state of the weather.
Alternatively, and more in keeping again with the symbolism of Noah and His Ark, rain can be used in literature to symbolise a rebirth or a renewal. This is very much linked to the phrase “April showers bring May flowers”, meaning that a fresh shower of rain can symbolise a refreshing of scenery after a bad event, almost washing away the bad to reintroduce the good.
In conclusion, it is clear to see that rain is a fantastic literary device that writers have at their disposal. From sadness, to anger, to tragedy, to rebirth, to renewal, it is fascinating to see how a weather event so seemingly straightforward and singular in nature can be taken and twisted in to multiple different meanings on both ends of the symbolic spectrum.