Complicated Relationships in Octavio Paz’s Novel


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Octavio Paz’s “My Life With the Wave” illustrates the tale of a brief love affair that turns to an exchange of hate, bitterness and anger. Though brief, the relationship expresses elements of both love and hate, contrasting positive and negative imagery to bring forth the transition of emotions. Paz employs an impressive range of diction, as well as a complicated extended metaphor in order to illustrate the transformation of the narrator’s relationship with the “wave.”

The narrator’s relationship with the wave does not begin positively; he initially describes his first introduction to the wave as one of great reluctance. He uses diction such as “shame,” and “furious,” and tries to rid himself of the wave by telling her that whatever she wishes to have with him, in the city, “was impossible.” From the very beginning, Paz’s narrator does not want to become involved with this mysterious, freakish thing; its nature is something that, perhaps, frightens him, and it is not something he wants to stick around. His affair with the wave can also be seen as taboo in the sense that, when boarding the train with her, he describes the lack of rules when being with her as “an indication of the severity with which our act would be judged” – an affair with a woman, exposing this matter to innocent children and inquiring strangers, is incredibly risky and dangerous, and only contributes to the narrator’s ill-fate. Following this, he spends time in jail, away from the wave, and returns home after his sentence only to truly experience the light and happiness she has to offer.

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Following his unfortunate experience on the train, the narrator once again meets the wave, and it is in this new era of his lifetime that his life is “changed,” for the better. He describes her mere presence in his home as transforming the “dark corridors and dusty furniture” into “a numerous and happy populace of reverberations and echoes” – the wave changes his life, from something so dreary and dark to, instead, something uplifting, filled with light, color, and overall warmth. In this stage of their affair, the wave is described with diction related to light and whiteness; in describing the pure delight that her love brings to him, the narrator muses that, if he so much as embraced her, “she would…flower into a fountain of white feathers, into a plume of smiles that fell over…and covered me with whiteness.” Paz’s choice of diction here helps to further indicate the happiness and joy that the wave now brings into the narrator’s life, with imagery of light and whiteness being a commonality in positivity. The wave is also often paired with sounds of laughter to express her positive influence on the narrator; when he first returns from his sentence, she is heard “singing and laughing as always,” she blooms into a “plume of laughs” when she is embraced by him, and her laughter is seen as infectious, spreading to every corner of the narrator’s home so that “Everything began to laugh.” To the narrator, the happiness that the wave brings does not only include sunlight and brightness, but also joy and music, as expressed with how influential her mere laughter is.

However, despite being at such a high point in the affair, the wave still has her moments of darkness. Sometimes, rather than being the epitome of light and happiness, she became “black and bitter,” with her musical laughter being replaced with “groans” and “roars.” Her state as that of a reflection of sunlight itself seems to reflect onto her personality and mood as well, as the narrator states that “Cloudy days irritated her,” to the point where she cursed, destroyed their home, and screamed insults at her lover. Just as her positivity was something to admire, bringing forth warmth and joy into their home, her foul moods were so destructive and abusive that they were “as fatal as the tide” – after all, the ocean is beautiful to admire, but it still contains dangers and risks. Even her laughter, despite being described as melodious and beautiful during the high point in their relationship, turns into something antagonistic as the affair continues. The narrator describes that, at one point, the wave “laughed and pounded [him] until [he] fell,” to the extent where he believed he was drowning, where he was “at the point of death, and purple…” – the wave’s change in behavior is not only destructive to the environment which surrounds her, but is also seen to begin suffocating the narrator, as purple is a color often associated with asphyxiation. The wave then begins to whisper sweet nothings to him, despite all the pain she’s caused him, and the narrator briefly listens to her “sweet voice,” only to soon recover and begin to hold fear and hatred towards her.

It is at this point that Paz’s narrator begins to neglect his relationship with the wave, socializing with old friends and even an old girlfriend, who he tells of the abuse he has experienced – despite letting another person know his situation, however, he realizes that there truly is nothing else she can do, as the wave herself “was always changing.” His neglect and lack of interest in his affair brings forth another change in the wave, but not a good one. Her anger and misery now transitions into menacing sounds and abusive behavior; she becomes “cold,” in contrast to the warmth she had brought earlier in their relationship, “quiet and sinister,” rather than happy and inviting. Instead of her lovely sounds from earlier on, the wave now “howled loudly,” antagonizing the narrator with her despairing noises. The laughter that, before, filled every corner of their shared home with joy and light, becoming threatening and hurtful: “She insulted me. She cursed and laughed; filled the house with guffaws and phantoms” – her laughter remains spacious and filling, but instead begins to suffocate and agitate the narrator in his own home. Her abusive nature is also apparent in the way her body is described, as an “implacable whip that lashed, lashed, lashed;” now, she is not only verbally abusive, but implied to be physically so as well, something that drives the narrator out and away from his home.

After a month, he returns home once more, and finds the house in a state of cold and darkness, just as it had been prior to the wave’s presence in his life. The “extinct fire” that the narrator finds upon entering is that of the passion and warmth he had held during their relationship; it is a fire that burned bright for the high point of their lives together, but soon extinguished itself. The wave is now a statue of ice, immovable and solid, rather than languid and carefree as she was before. Paz makes use of this final paragraph to drive home the lack of warmth in the home now that the wave has changed so drastically, using diction such as “cold,” “ice,” “weary,” and “chilled.” The fire of love and passion that flowed so effortlessly between the narrator and the wave has “chilled,” losing all warmth and light, and becoming freezing cold and overwhelmingly dark.

Octavio Paz employs a rich array of diction and a complicated extended metaphor in order to portray the development of what begins as a loving and joyful relationship, into one of abuse and antagonistic behavior. He uses diction in order to express contrasting sensory imagery, and makes this very development into something solid and tangible, just as a solid block of ice.

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