The River Goose is a river that runs by Lockless, the plantation where Hiram was born. To some characters in the novel, it is a symbol of danger and death, but for Hiram and other enslaved people it represents rebellion and freedom. Like water dancing, the Goose is connected to rebellion and freedom via water. In a sense, the Goose can be read as a smaller version of the Atlantic Ocean, which captive Africans jumped into in order to avoid a life of slavery. When Hiram is growing up, he hears stories that his grandmother, Santi Bess, led almost 50 enslaved people to freedom by walking with them into the river. This makes the connection between the Goose and the Atlantic Ocean as sites of rebellion and resistance particularly clear. At the very beginning of the novel, Hiram is driving his half-brother and master Maynard home when, while passing the Goose, he experiences a vision of Rose and Emma water dancing that causes him to crash the carriage. Maynard drowns, but Hiram is mysteriously rescued when he is able to Conduct himself out of the Goose and onto dry land. By killing Maynard but saving Hiram, the water in the Goose facilitates rebellion against enslavers while allowing enslaved people to access freedom and safety. This is emphasized later in the novel when, after gaining control over his ability to Conduct, Hiram uses the Goose in order to come and go from Lockless and continue his secret operation of the Underground Railroad there.
The River Goose Quotes in The Water Dancer
At every gathering there was this dispute about my mother’s mother, Santi Bess, and her fate. The myth held that she had executed the largest escape of tasking folk—forty-eight souls—ever recorded in the annals of Elm County. And it was not simply that they had escaped but where they’d been said to escape to—Africa. It was said that Santi had simply led them down to the river Goose, walked in, and reemerged on the other side of the sea.
Maybe the power was in some way related to the block in my memory, and to unlock one was, perhaps, to unlock the other. And so in those dark and timeless hours in the pit, it became my ritual to reconstruct everything I had heard of her and all that I had seen of her in those moments down in the Goose. Rose of the kindest heart. Rose, sister of Emma. Rose the beautiful. Rose the silent. Rose the Water Dancer.
And in all of these words, and each of these stories, I saw as much magic as anything I’d seen in the Goose, souls conducted as surely as I was out from its depths.