The short story Sea Story is written by A. S. Byatt in 2013. It is a story about the young Harold, who has a very significant relation to the nature especially to the sea. He falls in love with the beautiful woman Laura, but he does not reveal his love to her. Laura is leaving to study abroad and Harold is having a hard time without her, so he writes her a love letter in a bottle message, but the bottle does not get to the intended destination without being broken by the sea.
In this essay I will focus on the writer’s use of literary quotations, and which connection it has to the main character. Furthermore I will focus on the role of the nature in the short story and also a characterization of the main character. The story mostly takes place near Harold’s home in Filey, and also at a pub nearby where he socializes with Laura and her friends.
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Part of the story takes place at Oxford where Harold studies. The story is written from a third-person narrator, who is limited omniscient, which means that the narrator can only see into the thoughts of the main character.
The effect of the story depends on which point of view is chosen, and we only see the story from Harold’s point of view, which makes Laura’s decision about leaving seem cruel. The style of the story is influenced by a lot of adjectives and imagery. The nature is for instance described with many details like a fishing town with a perfect sweep of pale golden beach, crumbling grassy cliffs and the unique Filey Brigg (page 1, line 3-4). The detailed descriptions also make the sentences long with many clauses.
The main character’s name is Harold, and he is probably in his early twenties when the story takes place. He is born into a family, who appreciates the nature and especially the sea. His father is an oceanographer and his mother is an English teacher at a high school. Furthermore his mother writes poems about water and waves, and she is absorbed with the sea. She likes to be alone by the sea where she feels free and unconcerned. I must go down to the sea again, to the lonely sea and sky […] and all I ask is a windy day with the white clouds flying (page 1, line 19-20 and 23).
The mother has a special relation to the sea, and Harold inherits this relation. Both of them are fascinated by the roar from the ocean and the sing from the wind, because these sounds make them feel carefree and alone in a good way where no one can interrupt them. The fact that the ocean is more powerful than the human also fascinates Harold, which is also why he chooses to let the ocean lead his love letter to Laura when she is in the Caribbean. Harold believes that the ocean will bring him luck and therefore he throws a message to his love into the sea.
Harold and Laura also meet each other for the first time while Harold is fishing and Laura is swimming in the sea. The ocean, as a part of the nature, is therefore very significant in the story. Harold starts studying English literature at Oxford, but he is affected by having lived at the sea the most of his life. It is hard for him to be away from the coast and his mind is described as The space inside his skull was composed of an almost abstract form – the sweep of sand, the black protuberance of the Brigg… (page 1, line 30-31).
His mind is signified the inhuman (page 1, line 32), which is the opposite of the way things are at Oxford, where everything is structured and man-made. Harold does not really fit into the study environment, he feels more at home by the sea. He falls really much in love with the beautiful Laura, who is described as wild and sunny and as a marine goddess (page 4, line 127). Laura fascinates Harold in the same way that the sea does, and she has the same effect on him because she is breathtaking.
It does not seem like Harold has been socializing a lot with people while he was younger because he can not say anything to Laura, because he is so much in love with her. He has not learned to define his feelings. He never really tells her how he feels, but instead He wrote her love letters in his mind (page 2, line 72), but the love letters in his mind are not very useful, when Laura does not know about them. Harold is very engaged to poetry and he will rather write Laura a poem than his own words defining his feeling. A. S. Byatt uses literary quotations a couple of times in the short story.
She is quoting the poet Masefield, whose poems often were about a fascination of the sea1, which you can compare with the fascination that Harold and his mother has for the sea. Furthermore A. S. Byatt is comparing Harold’s feelings and thoughts about Laura to Marvell’s thoughts about a woman, where Harold like Marvell feels that he could spend the rest of his life admiring his beloved2. In the end A. S. Byatt uses a well-known love poem by Robert Burns, in which nature also plays a big imagery part like it does in A. S. Byatt’s short story3.
Robert Burns is in his poem comparing his love to a woman with the love he has to specific parts of the nature. A. S. Byatt uses the love poem by Robert Burns as the love poem which Harold writes to Laura while she is in the Caribbean. Harold writes Laura a love letter because he has no words to define his feelings and his love for her. Often poets also write poetry and use a lot of imagery because they do not know how to express themselves. Harold has the same problem. He does not know how to tell Laura that he is in love with her, so he will rather write her a poem in a letter, where his message is more implicit.
The message of the story is that you should rather say how you feel than writing someone else’s words in a bottle message and rely on the ocean to bring the message to your beloved. Harold was speechless when he was near Laura, and he never told her how he felt before she left. This meant that he wrote her a love letter and sent it in a bottle message which Laura got, but not in the state that it was meant to be, but instead as small ruined parts of a mess which Laura caught together with plankton and studied – but she never received the true message from Harold.