Zeitoun

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Zeitoun’s Canoe Symbol Analysis

Zeitoun’s Canoe Symbol Icon

A simple, unadorned piece of corrugated iron, the canoe that Zeitoun bought several years before Hurricane Katrina reminds him of where he came from. He was born in a small coastal town in Syria, but also was part of a family of seamen, sailors, and ship captains. This symbol of Zeitoun’s past also becomes a symbol of his stubborn determination to help others in the days after Katrina, as he paddles around the flooded city of New Orleans assisting trapped residents and animals. The canoe stands in contrast to the military fanboats and motorboats prowling around the city, transporting officials that seem more concerned about maintaining “security” and “order” than about helping those left behind. Because the canoe is so quiet, Zeitoun is able to hear cries for help that these larger machines cannot.

At one point Zeitoun thinks back to the story of Noah’s Ark, which is an important religious story for Muslims, as well as for Christians and Jews. In some ways Zeitoun’s canoe is a kind of ark, protecting him and those that he helps, and saving them from a destruction so vast that it seems divine in origin. As a modern “Noah,” Zeitoun takes on responsibility for rescuing and saving whomever he can, according to what he believes is God’s will. Indeed, Zeitoun comes to think of his entire ordeal as a test from God.

Zeitoun’s Canoe Quotes in Zeitoun

The Zeitoun quotes below all refer to the symbol of Zeitoun’s Canoe. 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:
Family, Community, and Home Theme Icon
). Note: all page and citation info for the quotes below refers to the Vintage edition of Zeitoun published in 2010.
Part 2: Wednesday August 31 Quotes

But there was the canoe. He saw it, floating above the yard, tethered to the house. Amid the devastation of the city, standing on the roof of his drowned home, Zeitoun felt something like inspiration. He imagined floating, alone, through the streets of his city. In a way, this was a new world, uncharted. He could be an explorer. He could see things first.

Related Characters: Abdulrahman Zeitoun
Related Symbols: Zeitoun’s Canoe
Page Number: 94-95
Explanation and Analysis:

When the storm quiets down and Zeitoun is left in a flooded city, he begins to feel restless and bored. Not long after that, however, he realizes that he is not condemned to remain trapped at home indefinitely. The canoe is his ticket out of what he hates the most - doing nothing. Zeitoun's adventurous spirit has already become clear: for one, he arrived to the United States on a steamer after traveling all around the world. Now he has another chance to uncover another new world, though in quite a different context.

However, Zeitoun's romantic vision of exploring uncharted paths and floating peacefully through the city is described mainly as a contrast to what he will actually find. A devastating hurricane, of course, has just ripped through New Orleans. While Eggers doesn't portray Zeitoun as naive or uncaring, he points to Zeitoun's initial reactions both to underline his natural sense of adventure, and to suggest that few people thought that Hurricane Katrina would be devastating to the extent that it was.

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Had they been in a fan boat, the noise overwhelming, they would have heard nothing. They would have passed by, and the woman likely would not have survived another night. It was the very nature of this small, silent craft that allowed them to hear the quietest cries. The canoe was good, the silence was crucial.

Related Characters: Abdulrahman Zeitoun, Frank Noland
Related Symbols: Zeitoun’s Canoe
Page Number: 109
Explanation and Analysis:

Zeitoun and Frank have spent the day paddling around the neighborhood, helping a number of trapped residents in need. Zeitoun feels excited and purposeful - like there's a reason that he's remained behind in the city. Now, he realizes that the canoe is more than a means for him to keep from going mad while cooped up in his home. It can be used to help others as well, and, most importantly, it is ideally suited to such a task. The fan boats that have been sharing the same space as the small, unassuming-looking canoe seem important and necessary, part of an official fleet that has been dispatched to aid the recovery from the storm. But here Zeitoun recognizes that the fan boats' power is more symbolic than real, since it is too loud for its conductors to actually listen for people in need.

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Zeitoun’s Canoe Symbol Timeline in Zeitoun

The timeline below shows where the symbol Zeitoun’s Canoe appears in Zeitoun. The colored dots and icons indicate which themes are associated with that appearance.
Part 1: Sunday August 28
Human vs. Natural Tragedy Theme Icon
...dawn, it occurs to Zeitoun that a flood isn’t impossible, so he drags his secondhand canoe from the garage and ties it next to the house. (full context)
Family, Community, and Home Theme Icon
Faith, Perseverance, and Dignity Theme Icon
Human vs. Natural Tragedy Theme Icon
Zeitoun had bought the canoe, an old aluminum model, from a client a few years before for 75 dollars. He... (full context)
Part 1: Monday August 29
Human vs. Natural Tragedy Theme Icon
...Orleans, the weather calms in the afternoon and Zeitoun leaves the house to find his canoe floating in the backyard. He paddles around an uprooted tree and through the silent street,... (full context)
Part 2: Wednesday August 31
Faith, Perseverance, and Dignity Theme Icon
Human vs. Natural Tragedy Theme Icon
...he’s salvaged from the kitchen, but then feels restless and trapped. Then he remembers the canoe, and he imagines exploring the new, uncharted world of the submerged city streets. As he... (full context)
Family, Community, and Home Theme Icon
Human vs. Natural Tragedy Theme Icon
...in their seventies leaning out of their window. They can’t fit the couple in the canoe, so Zeitoun and Frank promise to send someone as soon as they get to Claiborne,... (full context)
Family, Community, and Home Theme Icon
Faith, Perseverance, and Dignity Theme Icon
Human vs. Natural Tragedy Theme Icon
...gently and pulls her out the front door, but they can’t lift her into the canoe, and even if they could it would capsize. They tell her they’ll quickly reach Claiborne... (full context)
Crime, Justice, and Injustice Theme Icon
Human vs. Natural Tragedy Theme Icon
...look their way, and the fan boat fails to stop, its wake nearly tipping the canoe. Over the next 20 minutes, ten more fan boats barrel by, all ignoring their cries... (full context)
Family, Community, and Home Theme Icon
Faith, Perseverance, and Dignity Theme Icon
Human vs. Natural Tragedy Theme Icon
...approaches, and this one does stop. They throw a line to Zeitoun and tow the canoe to the woman’s house with the motorboat. The woman directs them to the garage, where... (full context)
Faith, Perseverance, and Dignity Theme Icon
Human vs. Natural Tragedy Theme Icon
...from the houses. Zeitoun drops Frank off at his house and heads back, tying the canoe to the back porch. He cooks a small dinner on his grill, then cleans with... (full context)
Part 2: Friday September 2
Crime, Justice, and Injustice Theme Icon
Human vs. Natural Tragedy Theme Icon
...There are tents, military vehicles, and police officers and soldiers. Zeitoun steps out of his canoe and asks one officer to help a handicapped man be evacuated. He gives the man... (full context)
Part 2: Saturday September 3
Crime, Justice, and Injustice Theme Icon
Human vs. Natural Tragedy Theme Icon
Zeitoun and Nasser decide to check Uptown to see if anyone needs help. The canoe goes faster with two men paddling, and they whiz by the submerged houses. Nasser spots... (full context)
Part 4: Monday September 19
Crime, Justice, and Injustice Theme Icon
Human vs. Natural Tragedy Theme Icon
...calls Kathy back and tells him about Zeitoun, whom Raleigh has just seen in his canoe on the local news. Raleigh tells her that he’s been working with prisoners from a... (full context)
Part 5: Fall 2008
Faith, Perseverance, and Dignity Theme Icon
Human vs. Natural Tragedy Theme Icon
Zeitoun sometimes recalls the beauty of the canoe, which allowed him to move and listen carefully. The canoe was gone when he finally... (full context)