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Analysis Essay of "This is Water" by David Foster Wallace

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  • Pages: 3
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Main keywords of the essay: David Foster Wallace, commencement speech, analysis, two young fish, old fish, This is Water

Essay characters: David Foster Wallace, old fish, two young fish

Concept: Inspirational Speech, Essay

Size: 959 words, 3 pages.

This example is going to analyze the main ideas, and life lessons that are contained in commencement speech ‘This are Water.’ It can be used for reference and understanding of how a student may consider text and carry out an analysis of the main ideas or themes. Everyone’s perspective on a commencement speech should be different. Check ‘This is Water’ David Foster Wallace analysis and see if your opinion differs.

This is Water’ Analysis Essay

‘This is Water’ is a short story that comes from a public commencement speech that was given by David Foster Wallace at the Kenyon College in Gambier, Ohio USA. Importantly, it gives David Foster Wallace’s outlook on life and things he saw with his own eyes. In fact, he did not believe these findings were sensational but there is a lot that we can learn from his speech ‘This is Water‘.

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David Foster Wallace’s ‘This is Water’ commencement speech starts with two young fish come across an older fish that is passing by. The old fish says, “Morning, boys. How’s the water?” The two young fish are confused by this and eventually ponder over; “What the hell is water?” While this may seem like a simple story, it is actually philosophical and has a deeper meaning that we may break down and examine. Thus, it is essential to analyze ‘This is Water’ commencement speech in order to identify lessons he portrays.

The first life lesson in David Foster’s ‘This is Water’ concerns “default setting”. This refers to idea of daily tasks we do and thoughts we have without actually thinking about them and that lack real meaning. David Foster Wallace demonstrates how in mainstream society, we often forget about what really matters and get ideas about real things that have meaning. By acting unconsciously we are not paying enough attention to our experiences and are ignorant of our surroundings. For example, we might be thinking about our jobs or how much money we have and not about real things, such as how beautiful nature is or how our bodies work every day to keep us alive. Of course, that is what David Wallace tries to show in ‘This is Water’. While the older fish has learned to see the beauty, the young fish are not paying attention. They have never noticed water and often took it for granted. As David Foster Wallace says, “in the day-to-day trenches of adult existence, banal platitudes can have life-or-death importance.” One should stop, make an analysis of their own actions.

The second lesson from David Foster Wallace’s ‘This is Water’ is that you have the freedom to look at life differently and you control viewing the world out with the default setting. You have a choice, find an approach to people and the world. The author believes you have awareness. He provides his own analysis, “you get to decide how you’re going to see it. You get to consciously
decide what has meaning and what doesn’t.“ You are not programmed to only think one way and have the ability to change an outlook. While people often believe they are stuck in the “rat race”, they may decide if they want to view something negatively and achieve a poor outcome or look at something positively and feel better about it. David Foster Wallace demonstrates this in his example, “If I don’t make a conscious decision about how to think and what to pay attention to. I’m going to be pissed and miserable every time I have to shop.” Many people are narrow-minded, judging others, and he makes this dear in his example of the tiring and slow work. It is only you who has power to change a situation and make it hopeful and happy, as well as choose how to judge other people.

‘This is Water’ by David Foster Wallace makes you question what your natural default setting is. Do you react negatively to situations around you and do not think about the simple beauties? Do you accept the world as opposed against you rather than looking at the bright side? As he states in ‘This is Water’, “the most obvious, ubiquitous, important realities are often the ones that are the hardest to see and talk about.” Yet, you can make the analysis and conscious decision to do this if you want to.

Of course, speaking to college students in the United States, David Foster Wallace points out in ‘This is Water’ that an education in the US is more than just a piece of paper and doesn’t mean just learning “how to think.” In particular, it means how to “exercise some control over how and what you think”. David Foster Wallace stresses that you can have the ability to change your
reflecting process, for example being kind to other people. Main message in ‘This is Water’ is that in life there are more superficial things. Once you choose to acknowledge this you may live fully and discover ‘the water.’ A quote that demonstrates this analysis is, ‘None of this is about morality or religion, or dogma, or big fancy questions after death. The capital-T Truth is about life before death.’

In particular, David Foster Wallace focuses on showing empathy and compassion towards other people. Regardless of situation, one should be able to see life and everything around from different angles. You have an ability to not become stressed or anxious about a situation. By being consciously aware and showing compassion, you should make your life experienced, more meaningful and positive. David Foster Wallace points out his analysis that while you can be frustrated and bored waiting in a heavy traffic jam after a stressful day at work. “Hummer that just cut me off is maybe being driven by a father whose little child is hurt or sick in the seat next him.” David Foster Wallace says that the world does not always revolve around you and that there exist bigger and more important reasons why things happen. It is essential to have perspective, think that people may be in worse situations than you can even imagine. You are not always superior to everybody else. The analysis of ‘This is Water’ by David Foster Wallace helped to discover its main lesson.

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Analysis Essay of “This is Water” by David Foster Wallace. (2022, November 16). Edubirdie. Retrieved February 8, 2023, from
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