A Visit from the Goon Squad

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Water Symbol Icon

As a literary symbol, water is often connected with the idea of rebirth, renewal, and redemption, but in A Visit From the Goon Squad, this symbol is inverted, instead pointing to destruction, decay, and death. One of the primary images of water in the novel is the East River in New York City. The river is polluted and its banks are lined with trash. For those living in the New York City of the 2020’s, water is something to be feared. In the story “Pure Language,” the reader learns a water wall has been built to combat rising water levels. The most strongly symbolic moment of water in the novel occurs in the story “Out of Body.” At the end of a long night, Drew and Rob decide to swim in the East River. Symbolically, the water represents the polluted lives through which they are navigating, and the fact that Rob drowns during their swim solidifies the connection between water and destruction or death. A similar association appears in the story “You (Plural)”, as Jocelyn, in a moment of anger toward Lou, imagines drowning him into the pool. Water, rain, and steam also appear heavily in the story “Selling the General,” which focuses on the unethical PR moves of a genocidal dictator.

Interestingly, the absence of water is sometimes associated with redemption. Knowing water’s connection with death (particularly in her personal experience), it should come as no surprise that Sasha ends up moving to the desert. The desert, a place defined by its lack of water, becomes the place where she finds stability and some semblance of happiness.

Water Quotes in A Visit from the Goon Squad

The A Visit from the Goon Squad quotes below all refer to the symbol of Water. For each quote, you can also see the other characters and themes related to it (each theme is indicated by its own dot and icon, like this one:
Time and Memory Theme Icon
). Note: all page and citation info for the quotes below refers to the Anchor Books edition of A Visit from the Goon Squad published in 2011.
Chapter 4 Quotes

"Women are cunts," his father says. "That's why.”

"They are not—" He can't make himself repeat the word.
"They are," Lou says tightly. "Pretty soon you'll know it for sure."
Rolph turns away from his father. There is nowhere to go, so he jumps into the sea and begins slowly paddling back toward shore. The sun is low, the water choppy and full of shadows. Rolph imagines sharks just under his feet, but he doesn't turn or look back.

Related Characters: Lou Kline (speaker), Rolph
Related Symbols: The Sun, Water
Page Number: 78-79
Explanation and Analysis:

The connection and disconnection between Rolph and his father Lou is highlighted in this chapter. Rolph, a naïve young boy, admires his father, despite his father’s ruinous self-centeredness and misogynistic views. Until this point, Rolph accepts his father’s views as truth. But when Rolph reveals that Mindy has cheated on Lou, Lou reacts by calling her a “cunt,” which reveals the depth of his hatred toward women—a fundamental component of his identity.

In this moment, then, Rolph intuits the destructiveness of Lou’s views, and rejects them. This rejection marks the commencement of his journey toward the development of his own identity independent of his father’s. The fact that the sun is setting symbolically marks the end of their connection as father and son, and the menacing nature of the water speaks to the ruin Lou has created with his views, and the more adult world Rolph is entering in disconnecting from his father.

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Chapter 10 Quotes

As you fail, knowing you're not supposed to panic—panicking will drain your strength—your mind pulls away as it does so easily…You slip through Sasha's open window, floating over the sill lined with artifacts from her travels: a white seashell, a small gold pagoda, a pair of red dice. Her harp in one corner with its small wood stool. She’s asleep in her narrow bed, her burned red hair dark against the sheets. You kneel beside her, breathing the familiar smell of Sasha's sleep, whispering into her ear some mix of I'm sorry and I believe in you and I'll always be near you, protecting you, and I will never leave you, I'll be curled around your heart for the rest of your life, until the water pressing my shoulders and chest crushes me awake and I hear Sasha screaming into my face: Fight! Fight! Fight!

Related Characters: Rob (speaker), Sasha Blake
Related Symbols: Water
Page Number: 207
Explanation and Analysis:

In a drug-inspired decision to go for a swim in the icy East River, Rob has followed Drew into the water. Unlike Drew, however, Rob is not a strong swimmer and gets caught in the current. In the novel, water often represents the idea of ruin, and in this scene these characters confront the ruin of their lives as Rob meets his final destruction through death.

Throughout the entire story Rob has struggled with a connection to himself, as embodied in the second-person narrative point-of-view. In this moment his mind slips away from his body, but he seeks connection by returning in his mind to Sasha, the one person with whom he has felt connected. Though he gives up fighting by the end of this scene, he continues to hold onto the idea that Sasha will find redemption, and it turns out that his death plays a role in inspiring Sasha to change her life. The switch into first person at the end of the quote suggests Rob’s reconnection with and acceptance of his identity (as, at the very least, a person who loves Sasha purely) in his final moments of life.

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Water Symbol Timeline in A Visit from the Goon Squad

The timeline below shows where the symbol Water appears in A Visit from the Goon Squad. The colored dots and icons indicate which themes are associated with that appearance.
Chapter 2: The Gold Cure
Time and Memory Theme Icon
Identity, Authenticity, and Meaning Theme Icon
Connection, Disconnection, and Technology Theme Icon
Fame, Art, and Popular Culture Theme Icon
Ruin and Redemption  Theme Icon
...on the World, which was in the World Trade Center. Bennie waits out a respectful pause, and then changes the subject back to the band. Bennie tries to rationalize the band’s... (full context)
Chapter 6: X’s and O’s
Time and Memory Theme Icon
Identity, Authenticity, and Meaning Theme Icon
Connection, Disconnection, and Technology Theme Icon
...she divorced him. Bennie tells Scotty he worked hard for what he has. A strange pause ensues, during which Scotty grapples with the past and the loss of his friend. He... (full context)
Chapter 8: Selling the General
Connection, Disconnection, and Technology Theme Icon
Fame, Art, and Popular Culture Theme Icon
Ruin and Redemption  Theme Icon
...his short stature and sullied military uniform. He looks tired and grumpy. There is a pause in which no one, including The General, seems to know what to do. (full context)
Chapter 11: Good-bye, My Love
Time and Memory Theme Icon
Identity, Authenticity, and Meaning Theme Icon
Connection, Disconnection, and Technology Theme Icon
Ruin and Redemption  Theme Icon
...says she has had a hard time, though she won’t admit it. There is a pause, and then Sasha tells Ted she used to think she saw her father in China... (full context)
Chapter 12: Great Rock and Roll Pauses
Time and Memory Theme Icon
Identity, Authenticity, and Meaning Theme Icon
Ruin and Redemption  Theme Icon
...describes Lincoln. He looks like his father, Drew, but is skinnier. He is obsessed with pauses in great rock and roll songs. Alison states that Lincoln knows more than grownups about... (full context)
Identity, Authenticity, and Meaning Theme Icon
Connection, Disconnection, and Technology Theme Icon
Fame, Art, and Popular Culture Theme Icon
Lincoln loops the pause in each song so it sounds like it lasts for minutes. When Alison’s friends are... (full context)
Identity, Authenticity, and Meaning Theme Icon
Connection, Disconnection, and Technology Theme Icon
...following slide shows just their father’s response, telling Lincoln that what he says about the pause in “Fly Like an Eagle” is good to know. (full context)
Connection, Disconnection, and Technology Theme Icon
Ruin and Redemption  Theme Icon
...He clamps them over her ears. The music stops, and Alison waits through a long pause for it to start again. After a minute, she asks if that is the end... (full context)
Identity, Authenticity, and Meaning Theme Icon
Connection, Disconnection, and Technology Theme Icon
Fame, Art, and Popular Culture Theme Icon
...He agrees to let Lincoln play some music. Lincoln plays some music, and analyzes the pauses. Drew whispers to Sasha, asking if they should encourage Lincoln’s obsession, and whether it will... (full context)
Time and Memory Theme Icon
Connection, Disconnection, and Technology Theme Icon
Ruin and Redemption  Theme Icon
Drew tries to ask Lincoln why the pauses matter so much to him, but Lincoln continues analyzing different songs. Eventually, Drew yells at... (full context)
Connection, Disconnection, and Technology Theme Icon
Ruin and Redemption  Theme Icon
...for them, that they are sleeping. Alison hears the silence in the desert like the pauses in Lincoln’s songs. She says the whole desert is a pause. Drew admits that he... (full context)
Time and Memory Theme Icon
Connection, Disconnection, and Technology Theme Icon
Fame, Art, and Popular Culture Theme Icon
Ruin and Redemption  Theme Icon
...asks if he has ever heard of a band called the Frames that have a pause of more than a minute in one of their songs. Drew says Sasha used to... (full context)
Chapter 13: Pure Language
Time and Memory Theme Icon
Identity, Authenticity, and Meaning Theme Icon
Connection, Disconnection, and Technology Theme Icon
Fame, Art, and Popular Culture Theme Icon
Ruin and Redemption  Theme Icon
...to become a star. Scotty had dared him to do it. There is a long pause, and then Scotty jumps to his feet and lunges for the door, trying to escape.... (full context)