Rain, like other natural phenomena, is rich with symbolic and metaphorical meanings. Life on Earth depends on rain. So, it’s no surprise that it has taken on important meanings to people across cultures throughout history. In this post, we’ll dive into the symbolic meaning of rain, including spiritual perspectives as well as its use as a metaphor in literature, film, and more.
1. Rain Symbolism: Renewal
Rain often symbolizes a fresh start or new beginning because of its capacity to purify the air and replenish the Earth.
An example of rain being used as a metaphor for renewal and rebirth is in F. Scott Fitzgerald’s The Great Gatsby. It’s as though the washes away the years of separation when Gatsby and Daisy reunite, symbolizing a rebirth of their relationship and renewal of their lost love.
2. Sadness or Melancholy
Rain can make many of us feel moody or even depressed. Hence, it’s not surprising that this weather phenomenon is a symbol for sadness and melancholy.
In fact, authors throughout history have used rain as a metaphor to describe the dreary mood of a particular scene. For example, in Charles Dickens’ Great Expectations, rain accentuates the gloominess of Pip’s emotional state as he navigates his complex feelings in London, with the persistent dreary weather reflecting his deep-seated sense of despair and disillusionment.
In addition to being a symbol of sadness or melancholy, rain can be a metaphor for foreboding or impending doom.
For example, in the cult classic film The Rocky Horror Show, the protagonists Janet and Brad get a flat tire in a rainstorm, which kicks off a very strange adventure. Here’s the scene from the film (which happens to have my all-time favorite song from the movie!):
4. Isolation and Loneliness
Often when it rains, we stay indoors and are therefore isolated from other people. So, a rainy day can also symbolize isolation, with rain acting like a barrier separating us from the rest of the world.
An example of rain symbolizing loneliness in literature is in Kazuo Ishiguro’s novel Never Let Me Go.
In the story, the protagonist often finds herself alone in the rain, reflecting on her isolation and the disconnection from the world around her.
The rain serves as a metaphor for her sense of solitude and the emotional distance she feels from others, underlining the theme of alienation that permeates the novel.1
5. God’s Wrath
In the Bible, rain often symbolizes God’s judgment, or wrath, when he is displeased with human behavior. One of the preeminent examples of this is the story of the Great Flood in the Book of Genesis. Rain is used as a means of divine retribution.
Genesis 6-9 describes how God, grieved by the corruption and evil of humanity, decides to cleanse the Earth with a flood. God tells Noah:
“Seven days from now I will send rain on the earth for forty days and forty nights, and I will wipe from the face of the earth every living creature I have made.”2
6. Blessings and Heavenly Gifts
In some cases, instead of God’s judgment, rain symbolizes divine blessings. For example, in Hinduism, in the Rigveda, which is one of the oldest sacred Hindu texts, hymns are dedicated to Indra, the god of rain and thunderstorms. Indra brings rain, thus, agricultural abundance and prosperity. Here is an example in Rigveda, Mandala 1, Hymn 32:
“Indra, the strong lord of bounteous gifts, whose will the waters and the rains obey, … He under whose supreme control are horses, all chariots and the villages, and cattle; He who gave being to the Sun and Morning, who leads the waters, He, O men, is Indra.”3
7. Fertility and Abundance
As referenced above, rain is also a symbol of fertility and abundance in cultures around the world because it’s associated with the healthy growth of crops.
John Steinbeck’s classic novel The Grapes of Wrath depicts the antithesis of this idea when the Joad family are forced to leave Oklahoma due to severe drought and economic hardship during the Great Depression.
Rain is also a symbol of change, as rain storms can occur abruptly, completely transforming a landscape. Thus, rain is emblematic of the transformative power of nature and the impermanence of virtually every aspect of life.
9. Reflection and Introspection
Our sensory perceptions of rain – how it feels, smells, looks, and sounds – coupled with how it can change our routine, can cause us to become thoughtful. Thus, rain is an apt metaphor for introspection and self-reflection.
In the movie Blade Runner, rain creates a mood for introspection, particularly in scenes where the protagonist, Rick Deckard, contemplates the nature of his existence and humanity.
10. Cleansing and Purification (+ Love)
As with water symbolism, rain meaning also implies cleansing and purification.
In a beautiful blend of metaphors, the iconic song “Love, Reign o’er Me” by The Who describes love as being like rain that purifies a person’s soul. The title of the song is a play on the spelling of the word as well – “reign”: It’s an invitation to let love take you over.
“Only love can make it rain
The way the beach is kissed by the sea
Only love can make it rain
Like the sweat of lovers laying in the fields
Love reign o’er me
Love reign o’er me
Rain on me, rain on me…”
This video is from one of the band’s live performances at Hyde Park. However, on the original record, the song starts out with the sound of rain.
11. The Cycle of Life
Rain is an integral part of the natural water cycle, on which all life depends. As a part of this, it also symbolizes the cycle of life, from birth to death and rebirth.
Rain in literature and film often symbolizes the cycle of life, representing both the nourishment and the renewal that it brings to the earth.
For example, in the film The Lion King, rain plays a significant role as a metaphor for the cyclical nature of life. After the defeat of Scar, rain falls, extinguishing the fires and symbolizing the rejuvenation of the Pride Lands. The scene illustrates the theme of rebirth and the continuation of the circle of life, echoing the natural cycles of growth, decay, and renewal.4
12. Mystery and Ambiguity
As rain can obscure what we see, it can also represent mystery, uncertainty, and the unknown.
An example of this is in the novel Rebecca by Daphne du Maurier
The frequent storms and rain at Manderley and the grand estate where the story unfolds,add to the novel’s suspenseful and enigmatic atmosphere. The rainy weather often coincides with the protagonist’s feelings of uncertainty and apprehension as she unravels the mysterious past of her husband’s deceased first wife, Rebecca.
The rain thus becomes a metaphor for the secrets and mysteries that shroud the estate and its inhabitants.
“Colour and scent and sound, rain and the lapping of water, even the mists of autumn and the smell of the flood tide, these are memories of Manderley that will not be denied.”5
13. Overcoming Challenges
Enduring a rainstorm can also be a metaphor for overcoming life’s challenges and adversities.
For example, in the story The Perfect Storm, rain and stormy seas serve as metaphors for the immense challenges faced by the characters, testing their limits and resilience in the unforgiving environment of the open sea.
14. Hope and Promise
Rain symbolism can also signify hope and promise. An example of this is in Nathaniel Hawthorne’s The Scarlet Letter.
In the story, a rainstorm brings about a transformation in Hester and Dimmesdale’s relationship, symbolizing a moment of clarity and the possibility of a new beginning.
Similarly, in the film The Shawshank Redemption, rain symbolizes hope and freedom as the protagonist stands in the pouring rain after his escape, representing his rebirth and the promise of a new life.
15. Romance and Passion
We often associate love and passion with the element of fire. In this way, rain can also be used as a metaphor to describe these qualities. It’s as though even rain cannot dampen the passion between two people who are in love.
Here is one of my favorite scenes from the movie The Notebook, which aptly users rain to convey a passionate, romantic breakthrough:
16. Catharsis and Emotional Release
Rain in literature and film often symbolizes catharsis and emotional release, representing the character’s inner turmoil being washed away, leading to a sense of renewal.
For example, in the film Good Will Hunting, the rain during the pivotal therapy scene with Will and his therapist Sean Maguire acts as a metaphor for Will’s emotional release and the beginning of his healing process. This moment marks a turning point in his journey towards self-acceptance and understanding.
17. Nature in Harmony
Rain can also be used as a metaphor for how nature is at peace and in harmony with itself, and how we humans have become somehow separated from it.
A passage from Virginia Woolf’s The Years describes this beautifully, as humans consider getting out their umbrellas or taking transportation to shield themselves from the rain, while the plants, flowers, and animals savor it.
“It was raining. A fine rain, a gentle shower, was peppering the pavements and making them greasy. Was it worth while opening an umbrella, was it necessary to hail a hansom, people coming out from the theatres asked themselves, looking up at the mild, milky sky in which the stars were blunted. Where it fell on earth, on fields and gardens, it drew up the smell of earth. Here a drop poised on a grass-blade; there filled the cup of a wild flower, till the breeze stirred and the rain was spilt. Was it worth while to shelter under the hawthorn, under the hedge, the sheep seemed to question; and the cows, already turned out in the grey fields, under the dim hedges, munched on, sleepily chewing with raindrops on their hides.”6
With its life-giving properties and multifaceted symbolism, rain resonates in our collective consciousness. Its prevailing presence in literature, film, and other art forms is a testament to how it inspires us to think about our emotions and experiences in a way that is transcendent.
You might like these other articles on UniGuide:
- Water Meaning
- Rainbow Meaning
- Dusk Meaning
- Weather Symbolism
- Two Wolves Cherokee Legend
- Butterfly Symbolism