What do floods symbolise in literature?

symbolism of the flood

Think of a famous flood. You’ll likely think of Noah and his Ark from the Old Testament. This story has almost completely replaced the story of Deucalion, the guy who survived the Great Flood in Greek mythology. (Noah replaced Deucalion as Eve replaced Pandora; there are other examples of narrative replacements.)

We’ve never stopped telling stories about floods, in all kinds of stories across the ages.

Destruction and Chaos

Floods are often used as symbols of chaos, destruction, and uncontrollable forces. They can represent the overwhelming power of nature or the consequences of human actions. In this context, floods can be a metaphor for the destructive aspects of life or the inevitability of change.

A reminder that Water is the most powerful force on this planet. Even a foot of moving floodwater can shake 2 ton cars like rag dolls. It is heavy – a cubic meter weighs a TON. It is incompressible – it can’t be squashed but can squash you, and destroy man-made things.

Sure, point stands for homes/cities built in dangerously flood-prone places (with more rainfall and pell-mell urbanization is many places). Water will sweep anything and everything in its path. Civilizations that fight against water, lose. Water DGAF.

Hard for people who haven’t experienced storm surge to know what it is. Rotating winds literally push the sea inland. In Cat 4/5 hurricanes, winds of 100-150 mph will push a wall of water 5-20ft high. On the flat Gulf coast, up to 40 MILES inland.

Heavy rain & surging rivers in the most urbanized parts of the planet means Govts do whatever it takes to protect life and limb from the ferocious power of water.

Water is the most powerful force shaping Earth. Its not just Carbon cycle but WATER cycle that’s been supercharged by fossil-fueled modernity: 1 Hotter atmosphere holds more water 2 Hard surfaces of Urbanization

Faster runoff

Floods ht


“We bent nature to suit our own needs,” said Brad Udall, a climate and water expert at Colorado State University. “And now nature is going to bend us.” Civilizations that fight against water, lose. Fossil-fueled civilizations doubly so.

Concretized cities of Europe vulnerable to flooding from carbon-supercharged water-cycle. Population density = more people in harm’s way. Telling difference between Merkel (scientist-stateswoman) characterization of “fear, suffering” & Macron (finance bro).

This year flooding in Europe, last year across Asia. More than 8 MILLION people were displaced in India’s poorest state Bihar. That a Hotter atmosphere holds more moisture is basic physics & stopping Carbon is basic rationality.

“China’s over-reliance on dams, excessive construction in low-lying areas, land reclamation in wetlands…& cities built with poor drainage systems have all exacerbated flood damage” True for practically all cities that can’t cope w fossil-fueled storms.

Thousands of people told to flee homes in Netherlands as rising waters swamped cities & broke through a dyke. Dutch military dumps 100s of sandbags into growing hole. The country invests ~0.2% GDP in essential flood defense…now.

We caked world in Concrete. “too many roads, buildings, & other surfaces that cannot absorb water &instead send it rapidly to drainage systems that were sized & built decades ago”

@JooBilly 21st C cities need to slow & sink water #GreenInfrastructure

@70sBachchan 2021

Cleansing and Renewal

After a flood, there is often a sense of starting anew, as the waters wash away the old and make way for the new. This can be seen as a metaphor for personal growth, redemption, or the opportunity for a fresh start.

Reminder: Never go into flood water. It contains pathogens and is a threat to human health.

Purification and Redemption

Related to the previous symbolism of floods, characters may undergo a figurative baptism through a flood, cleansing themselves of past sins or mistakes and emerging as better, more virtuous individuals.

Isolation and Vulnerability

Floods can geographically isolate communities, highlighting their vulnerability and isolation from the rest of the world. This can serve as metaphor for emotional or social isolation, showing how individuals or groups are cut off from others by their psychological or moral shortcomings.

Hubris and Punishment

Sometimes floods are seen as a warning against human arrogance or the overstepping of boundaries.

When thinking about ‘flood stories’, remember to look beyond water.

In “The Magic Porridge Pot” category of fairytale is a warning against wishing for too much. In times of scarcity, to wish for too much is a psychologically dangerous thing.

Conflict and Tension

Floods can also serve as a backdrop for conflict and tension in a narrative. Like any natural disaster, floods create a sense of urgency, forcing characters to confront challenges and make difficult decisions.

Metaphor for Life’s Trials

Some authors use floods as a metaphor for the trials and tribulations of life. Just as a flood can sweep away everything in its path, life can present unexpected challenges that test the resilience and adaptability of characters and communities.

Floods and droughts leave their imprints, like scars, on the intersections of urban water and society. When related to social inequality, trauma and injustice, the traces and stories of water become hydro-social scars. These scars reveal the consequences of change in the biographies, histories and geographies that make a city. They are present in the narrative and material gathering of expectations, memory, hurt and healing.

Floods, droughts and trauma: Tracing the hydro-social scars of a Mexican city’s water crisis by Andrés Sierra Martinez, 9th August 2022

Symbol of Nature’s Power

Floods can be used to emphasize the awesome and uncontrollable power of nature. They remind characters and readers of humanity’s vulnerability in the face of natural forces.

Despite what this 1909 advertisement shows you, never ever drive through a flood.

Tire advertisement 1909 fording a river

In response to video footage of a car being swept away down a flooded suburban street in Flagstaff, AZ:

A reminder that water is the most powerful force on this planet. Even a foot of moving floodwater can shake 2 ton cars like rag dolls. It is heavy. A cubic metre weighs a TON. It is incompressible. It can’t be squashed but can squash you, and destroy man-made things.

— Albert Pinto (@70sBachchan) July 15, 2021



Do Droughts Make Floods Worse? at Practical Engineering on YouTube


On paper, things look fine. Sam Dennon recently inherited significant wealth from his uncle. As a respected architect, Sam spends his days thinking about the family needs and rich lives of his clients. But privately? Even his enduring love of amateur astronomy is on the wane. Sam has built a sustainable-architecture display home for himself but hasn’t yet moved into it, preferring to sleep in his cocoon of a campervan. Although they never announced it publicly, Sam’s wife and business partner ended their marriage years ago due to lack of intimacy, leaving Sam with the sense he is irreparably broken.

Now his beloved uncle has died. An intensifying fear manifests as health anxiety, with night terrors from a half-remembered early childhood event. To assuage the loneliness, Sam embarks on a Personal Happiness Project:

1. Get a pet dog

2. Find a friend. Just one. Not too intense.




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