“Deep water” English class 12 NCERT Summary and Question answers

Estimated Reading Time: 5 minutes

DEEP WATER (William Douglas)

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The story is a extract from of Men and Mountains by William O. Douglas. This story is based on his fear of waters that how the aversion to the water developed , the misadventure and finally how he overcame his fears.

Douglas recalls his early childhood memories when he was about 10 or 11 years old, he decided to learn swimming that’s why he joined Y.M.C.A pool in Yakima. His mother used to warn him treacherous Yakima river but the pool was safe because it wasn’t that deep. It was only two or three feet deep at the shallow end; and while it was nine feet deep at the other, the drop was gradual.

He had developed the fear of water when he was only four or three years old. He went to California and went to a beach there with his father. At beach, they stood as a wave leapt towards them. William stuck to his father to save himself, but the strong wave threw him down and he was covered in water. He was scared as he could not breathe.

One day when William reached the pool, no one was there and so he sat on the edge waiting for other boys to arrive. He was afraid to swim all alone in the pool. After sometime a well-built young man came there picked him up and tossed him into the deepest part of the pool. William landed on the surface of the pool in the same position as he had been sitting in. Douglas was terrified, but he could think of a plan to save himself. He decided to spring from the bottom of the pool as soon as his toes touched it. He hoped he would pop like a cork to the surface. Then, he would lie flat and paddle to the edge of the pool but he failed. He tried and tried then he became tired and his lungs ached. He gave up as he felt so weak. He fainted but when he regained his consciousness, he realised that he’s alive, he had been saved. He was lying on his stomach. He was vomiting. He heard voices. Someone said he had nearly died. The young man who had thrown him into the pool said that he had done it out of fun.

The incident haunted him in his youth His legs were paralysed. Whenever and wherever he went fishing, canoeing, bathing and swimming, the terror seized him , his legs become paralyzed.

 Finally, Douglas decided to get an instructor to help him overcome his fear of water. The instructor helped him bit by bit, piece by piece. Gradually he was able to swim the length of the pool up and down, he was not sure that the old fear had left him completely. He, however, was prepared to overcome it if it reappeared. Then, he went to Lake Wentworth in New Hampshire. He dived off a dock at Triggs Island. He swam two miles across the lake to Stamp Act Island. He used all, the strokes he knew. Only once did the terror return. But Douglas was able to overcome it at once. He still wanted to test himself. So Douglas went to Warm Lake. There, he swam across the other shore and back.

His terror of water and his conquest of it, gave him an insight into the meaning of life and death. He had experienced the fear of death as well as the sensation of dying. He felt there is peace in death. So he lived more intensely. He enjoyed life.


  • Yakima – a place in Washington, USA
  • Treacherous – dangerous
  • Aversion – dislike
  • Aping – copying
  • Bruiser – a person who is tough and aggressive and enjoys a fight or argument
  • Specimen – example
  • Tossed – threw
  • Wits – intelligence
  • Ducked – push or plunge someone under water
  • Bob – jump
  • Tinge – touch of colour
  • Expending – losing, giving out
  • Throbbed – felt pain in a series of beats
  • Strike out – extend
  • Thrash – hit with force
  • Stark – severe
  • Seized – gripped
  • Shrieking – screaming
  • Paralysed – incapable of movement
  • Pounding – repeated beating
  • Ceased – ended
  • Limp – lifeless
  • Oblivion – the state of being unaware or unconscious of what is happening around one
  • Wobbly – weak
  • Cascades – waterfall
  • Canoes – small boats
  • Slack – to reduce

Deep water – Imp Question and answers

How does Douglas make clear to the reader the sense of panic that gripped him as he almost drowned? Describe the details that have made the description vivid.

Douglas takes us through his near death experience at the Y.M.C.A. pool by detailing every little aspect associated to it. He details minutes of his emotional, mental and physical struggle with the paralyzing fear of being drowned in the water. The first person narration of the incident also helps us to associate with his experience more deeply. Though he did not lose his wits initially, he panicked when his strategy didn’t work. His feeling of suffocation, fear and losing hold on sense perceptions make the readers experience what he does. His eyes couldn’t see beyond the dirty yellow water. His voice did not assist him. His nose and mouth could only manage to take water to the lungs. His limbs became paralyzed with fear and his mind dizzy. His desperation to save himself kept him struggling until he went down the third time and blacked out. All these details make the description vivid.

How did Douglas overcome his fear of water?

At first, he tried to overcome his fear of water on his own. But when this failed, he got an instructor for himself who worked on Douglas’ fear very methodically. With his help, Douglas began by learning to be at ease in water. After this, he practiced exhaling- inhaling in water to eliminate the fear of putting his head inside the water. Then, he moved on to master individual steps of swimming which were, finally, integrated into a complete experience of swimming, by his instructor. After about six months, Douglas could not only swim well but was, also, free of his fear to a great extent. At this stage, Douglas’ journey of truly overcoming his fear to its tiniest vestiges began. He swam alone in the pool. He went to Lake Wentworth to dive. He tried every possible stroke he learnt. Finally, in his diving expedition, in the Warm Lake, he conquered his fear completely.

Why does Douglas as an adult recount a childhood experience of terror and his conquering of it? What larger meaning does he draw from this experience?

Douglas recounts his childhood experience at the Y.M.C.A. pool to enable the readers to understand the exact nature and intensity of the terror. The fear of being surrounded by the water, the fear of putting his head in the water, the fear of choking and the fear of his limbs going numb couldn’t have been explained to a reader unacquainted with Douglas’ childhood experience. In that case, the elaborate strategy adopted by the author (and his instructor) and the time-taken by him to learn or master even simple things, though put in the perspective of his fear of water, couldn’t have been understood properly. By quoting Roosevelt, “All we have to fear is fear itself,” Douglas indicates the larger meaning that he draws from his experience. For him, the importance of life became evident when he encountered death or rather its proximity threatening his life.

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