The Water Dancer

by

Ta-Nehisi Coates

Teachers and parents! Struggling with distance learning? Our Teacher Edition on The Water Dancer can help.

The River Goose Symbol Analysis

The River Goose Symbol Icon

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

The The Water Dancer quotes below all refer to the symbol of The River Goose. 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:
Memory vs. Forgetting Theme Icon
). Note: all page numbers and citation info for the quotes below refer to the One World edition of The Water Dancer published in 2019.
Chapter 6 Quotes

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.

Related Characters: Hiram Walker (speaker), Santi Bess
Related Symbols: The River Goose
Page Number: 92
Explanation and Analysis:
Chapter 11 Quotes

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.

Related Characters: Hiram Walker (speaker), Rose, Emma
Related Symbols: Water Dancing, The River Goose
Page Number: 147
Explanation and Analysis:
Chapter 18 Quotes

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.

Related Characters: Hiram Walker (speaker)
Related Symbols: The River Goose
Page Number: 227
Explanation and Analysis:
Get the entire The Water Dancer LitChart as a printable PDF.
The Water Dancer PDF

The River Goose Symbol Timeline in The Water Dancer

The timeline below shows where the symbol The River Goose appears in The Water Dancer. The colored dots and icons indicate which themes are associated with that appearance.
Chapter 1
Memory vs. Forgetting Theme Icon
Broken Families Theme Icon
Stolen Skills, Power, and Knowledge Theme Icon
Water, Movement, and Freedom Theme Icon
...when he was a child. She was taken across this bridge, which straddles the River Goose. Previously he has always avoided the bridge because it reminds him of family members who... (full context)
Broken Families Theme Icon
Stolen Skills, Power, and Knowledge Theme Icon
Water, Movement, and Freedom Theme Icon
Humanity vs. Inhumanity Theme Icon
...dependent on Hiram and helpless on his own. Hiram observes that being submerged in the Goose has made the reality of Maynard’s childlike dependence on him inescapably obvious.   (full context)
Chapter 5
Memory vs. Forgetting Theme Icon
Broken Families Theme Icon
Water, Movement, and Freedom Theme Icon
...to Sophia, she tells him not to, warning, “You may think yourself out of the Goose, but the Goose ain’t yet out of you.”  (full context)
Memory vs. Forgetting Theme Icon
Water, Movement, and Freedom Theme Icon
...not there. Sophia tells him that it was Hawkins who saw him drowning in the Goose, which led to his rescue.   (full context)
Chapter 6
Memory vs. Forgetting Theme Icon
Broken Families Theme Icon
Stolen Skills, Power, and Knowledge Theme Icon
Water, Movement, and Freedom Theme Icon
...sister Kat is sharing a story about how Hiram’s grandmother, Santi Bess, walked into the Goose, taking 48 enslaved people with her. Georgie dismisses the story as nonsense, protesting that it... (full context)
Chapter 7
Stolen Skills, Power, and Knowledge Theme Icon
Water, Movement, and Freedom Theme Icon
Humanity vs. Inhumanity Theme Icon
...world, and because something mysterious happened that enabled him to survive his fall into the Goose. Their conversation is interrupted by their arrival at Nathaniel’s house. As Hiram watches Sophia go... (full context)
Chapter 12
Memory vs. Forgetting Theme Icon
Broken Families Theme Icon
Stolen Skills, Power, and Knowledge Theme Icon
Water, Movement, and Freedom Theme Icon
Humanity vs. Inhumanity Theme Icon
...Walkers.” She then notes that the “Conduction” which allowed Hiram to escape drowning in the Goose is the same power Santi Bess possessed, and that the story of her saving almost... (full context)
Chapter 28
Memory vs. Forgetting Theme Icon
Broken Families Theme Icon
Stolen Skills, Power, and Knowledge Theme Icon
Water, Movement, and Freedom Theme Icon
Humanity vs. Inhumanity Theme Icon
...see Hiram, who has come back from the dead twice: once after falling into the Goose, and once after being captured by Ryland. (full context)
Chapter 30
Memory vs. Forgetting Theme Icon
Broken Families Theme Icon
Stolen Skills, Power, and Knowledge Theme Icon
Water, Movement, and Freedom Theme Icon
Humanity vs. Inhumanity Theme Icon
...too young for it still. Hiram bids her goodbye and leaves. He walks to the Goose, squeezes the horse, and is enveloped in a “new mist.” (full context)
Chapter 32
Memory vs. Forgetting Theme Icon
Broken Families Theme Icon
Stolen Skills, Power, and Knowledge Theme Icon
Water, Movement, and Freedom Theme Icon
...down in Lockless and unsure if she can trust him. He takes her to the Goose and begins reminiscing about the Christmas when the big group sat around the fire and... (full context)
Chapter 33
Memory vs. Forgetting Theme Icon
Broken Families Theme Icon
Water, Movement, and Freedom Theme Icon
Humanity vs. Inhumanity Theme Icon
...Sophia to wait for him back in their cabin. Hiram leads Thena to the River Goose, and as they walk out the North Star shines brightly above them. Hiram dedicates the... (full context)