This semiotic analysis examines the affect that trauma, in the form of metaphor or semiotic motif involving water, has on the titular character of BoJack Horseman in Netflix’s BoJack Horseman (2014-2020) as well as how the use of water mirrors generational trauma passed down via historical associations. The impact that this trauma has upon these characters is frequently paired with water imagery and symbolism. The show’s use of water draws particular attention to how its characters perpetuate aspects of their traumatic pasts in their day-to-day life and reveals the nuanced psychological impact inherent to trauma while simultaneously hinting at its deeper, intergenerational roots. Water is densely packed with sociocultural meaning and connotations across media genre and this meaning baked in throughout the centuries allows it to occupy a uniquely accessible symbolic niche; water is understandable because it is common in narrative and rich in meaning. Thus, water symbolism provides a rich basis for constructing a nuanced interpretation of trauma via synthesis of meanings assigned to other sociocultural works such as art, literature, or religion in order to examine the complex topic of intergenterational traumas in a thoughtful, visceral, and vivid manner. BoJack Horseman reveals that understanding why another individual acts the way that they do via narrative proves to be a powerful tool for comprehending the world at large. Visualizing something that is an invisible, abstract psychological concept via an essential element of life such as water is an extremely poignant means of understanding the self and others.
Library of Congress Subject Headings
BoJack Horseman (Television program)--Themes, motives; Psychic trauma on television; Water on television
Communication and Media Technologies (MS)
Department, Program, or Center
School of Communication (CLA)
Sherman, Zachery A., "Leading a Horse to Water: Investigating the Semiotic Motif of Water and Drowning in BoJack Horseman" (2021). Thesis. Rochester Institute of Technology. Accessed from
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