Not Waving but Drowning
by Stevie Smith
Not Waving but Drowning Theme of Suffering
It's clear to everyone in "Not Waving but Drowning" that the dead man suffered, but just how long or why is a matter of debate (or disinterest). As readers we initially think he's moaning about his death. Likewise, the people in stanza 2 think the saddest thing was the suffering he experienced at the moment of death. But the dead man himself tells us it was much worse than we suspect: it wasn't his death that was unbearably painful, it was his entire life.
Questions About Suffering
- Is the dead man's suffering mostly physical or mostly emotional and mental? Which would be worse?
- Do you think the other people would have been capable of understanding his life-long suffering?
- Do you think they could have helped?
- Do you think the dead man took steps to end his suffering or did he die by accident?
Chew on This
It's simple. The dead man suffered because he kept himself away from other people.
The other people should have seen his suffering and come to his aid, however he pretended to feel. It was their coldness that killed him.