For Tom in Anthony Doerr's story “The Deep,” water symbolizes vibrant life. Tom first catches a glimpse of such life in Ruby's book about the ocean. He is enchanted and excited by the “blizzard of green fish” and the “kingdom of purple corals.” At first he wonders if such beautiful things could be real, but they remain in his imagination for a long time. For Tom, these images of the underwater world give him hope in the darkness of his heart condition and the bleakness of his home.
Tom's afternoons with Ruby also often center around water. Ruby is fascinated by the underwater life in the marsh, and Tom helps her go diving. They talk about what she sees and discover life together in those small adventures in the water.
Tom doesn't see Ruby again for many years. The Great Depression hits their town; Tom's mother's boardinghouse closes; and Tom travels to the city and finds work in the maternity ward of a hospital. Sometimes he imagines that the hospital is “deep underwater” with the “pressure of the sea all around” and the lights outside like “glimmering schools of fish.” Tom is still immersed in life, and he is especially touched by the new life he witnesses every day as babies are born. Life continues even in the midst of the depression and of hardship.
Finally, Tom meets Ruby once again after he sees her in the maternity ward. She is now married and has an infant son, but the two agree to meet at the aquarium for an afternoon of catching up. The two walk through the aquarium, enchanted by the living creatures that float through the bright colors of the water. Even the baby seems to enjoy the scene. This time Tom realizes why he has always been so drawn to the water. It shows him that the world is filled with life and that life triumphs over death and difficulties and darkness. He suddenly understands that he is lucky to be part of a world that has so much life in it and that life is a gift. This is what the underwater world has taught him.