Rain can symbolize many things. It can represent unhappiness, rebirth, foreboding, determination, the breaking of a drought, and a pause for introspection.
It has been used as a symbol for many thousands of years, perhaps most notably in the floods in the bible.
Here are some examples of how rain is employed as a literary device.
What does Rain Symbolize?
1. Unhappiness and Melancholy
Rain often washes over a scene when the protagonist in a film, TV show or literature is ‘awash’ with sadness.
This may be because rain is oppressive. The clouds that it comes with lock out light and the warmth of the sun. It prevents us from going outdoors to enjoy nature. It literally makes our days grayer and darker.
When a character is sad or moody, rainy weather is often employed as a way of showing how the world is empathizing with the character.
An example is in the book Great Expectations. Pip narrates:
…stormy and wet, stormy and wet; and mud, mud, mud, deep in all the streets. Day after day, a vast heavy veil had been driving over London from the East, and it drove still, as if in the East there were an Eternity of cloud and wind. … gloomy accounts had come in from the coast, of shipwreck and death. Violent blasts of rain had accompanied these rages of wind, and the day just closed as I sat down to read had been the worst of all.
Here, Pip is outlining how the weather is mirroring his gloomy feeling as he spends his days depressed in London.
2. Ominous Foreboding
Rain may also symbolize foreboding. In fact, this symbolism often parallels the use of rain as a sign of melancholy – because the rain is indicating that there are no good prospects to come.
There are “dark clouds on the horizon”. Indeed, it can often take place in the final scene of a move that we know will not end well.
A quintessential example the scene in Road to Perdition where Sullivan ambushes and kills Rooney:
This is also done well in The Last Samurai where Tom Cruise’s fight loss is predicted (and predictable – for an educated audience) by the rainy weather.
3. Rebirth and Renewal
Rain can also represent rebirth. Rain is a requirement for plants to grow and is a vital way of regenerating water sources. Thus, it can be seen as a life giving source.
The use of rain as a symbol of renewal is perhaps most commonly employed at the end of a long reign of terror.
For example, rain is used to signify the end of Scar’s reign in The Lion King. After Simba defeats Scar, the rain falls and plants start to grow. The fast-forward cut scene shows the rain dampening fire, then giving life to new shoots of green.
Rain can exaggerate any mood. People can dance, sing and jump in puddles, such as in Singin’ in the Rain.
But, it is perhaps most commonly used as an exaggeration device when it comes to romance.
it is frequently used as the culmination or climax of a love story. The MsMojo YouTube channel identifies ten rainy kisses in films, which are listed below:
- Spiderman (2002)
- Breakfast at Tiffany’s (1961)
- Singin’ in the Rain (1952)
- Four Weddings and a Funeral (1994)
- The Notebook (2004)
- A Cinderella Story (2004)
- Match Point (2005)
- Chasing Amy (1997)
- Enchanted (2007)
- Garden State (2004)
- Australia (2008)
- Pirates of the Caribbean: At World’s End (2007)
- Dear John (2010)
- Cast Away (2006)
- Sweet Home Alabama (2002)
- Daredevil (2003)
- The Quiet Man (1952)
Rain can help film makers and story tellers highlight a character’s determination.
Characters will often struggle through rain. In such instances, rain is being used to highlight the fact that nothing will stop what is occurring – it will happen regardless of any obstacles.
This is well depicted in scenes where characters are shown training by running in the rain, getting ready for their big fight or football meet.
6. A Pause for Introspection
Rain may also be used to represent a pause in the action. The rain can come through and force characters to retreat indoors.
In these instances, the characters will often be shown drinking tea and looking out the window, waiting for a break in the weather for the next action scene to occur.
Lastly, rain can be used as a metaphor for the cleansing of a scene. The rain may wash away blood or even the sins of a character.
In fact, a character having a shower has a similar effect here because it is the falling of the rain and the washing away of dirt that has the cleansing effect.
While we may literally see the rain as cleaning our skin, the true metaphor is of washing away the sins of the past to start anew. Here, we see some overlap with Point #3.
Of course, the most common example of rain as a cleanser is in the bible, where it rains so much that the world is flooded and evil is washed away for God to reset the world with Noah and his kin.
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Rain is a versatile literary device, but is most commonly used to signify melancholy, renewal or melancholy.
But, authors always have the liberty to create their own symbolism – and good authors make it work. They will often use rain in recurring motifs to ‘train’ the audience’s response to see rain in a specific way within their storylines.
Do you have any other examples of how rain is used as a symbol? Share your thoughts below.
Dr. Chris Drew is the founder of the Helpful Professor. He holds a PhD in education and has published over 20 articles in scholarly journals. He is the former editor of the Journal of Learning Development in Higher Education. [Image Descriptor: Photo of Chris]