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One of the most potent uses of symbolism in Tim Gautreaux’s short story "Gone to Water" is the image of a wrecked oyster boat, The Two Sons, which had been owned and operated by the cousins of Claude Ledet, the 88-year-old native of the Louisiana Bayou at the center of this story. As Gautreaux’s anonymous narrator describes the image:
“The day before, he'd seen the big wooden oyster lugger The Two Sons go by, loaded down, and he'd waved at his cousins Henry and Rene where they sat on the deck sorting what they had dredged up from their lease, even though Henry and Rene had been dead of old age for many years and The Two Sons lay sunk and rotting in Lake Borgne.”
Skip ahead to the story’s conclusion, where Jackie, Claude’s great-grandson with whom the old man has recently survived the terrifying experience of being submerged in the oil-contaminated sludge that was once the source of Henry and Rene’s livelihood, is standing on the banks of the river waving his arms at The Two Sons as it passes slowly by, its deck stacked high with sacks of oysters. Only, as we know from that earlier passage, Jackie is waving at a ghost, at the memory of a boat and its occupants who no longer exist. The Two Sons symbolizes a bygone era, when simple people earned their living and shaped their lives around the waters that provided their sustenance. That era, however, was violently ushered out with the introduction of big business and, in particular, the oil industry. Gautreaux’s story was inspired by the ecological and cultural devastation that resulted from the explosion of the Deepwater Horizon offshore oil drilling platform owned by British Petroleum. That April 2010 explosion in the Gulf of Mexico caused the largest and most destructive oil spill in U.S. history and damaged ecosystems along the coast. The Two Sons symbolizes all that was lost, not just due to the oil spill, but also as a result of the cavalier destruction of natural geography that accompanied the region’s exploitation by the oil industry. Claude points out to Jackie the vast areas covered in water that were once productive farmland, but which were deliberately flooded to accommodate the industry’s needs.
Much of the detail in "Gone to Water" represents the bleak reality that confronts the story’s protagonists. The boat, however, serves to symbolize what has been lost, as does Claude himself. The story ends with Claude’s family taking away his small boat and his car, which he had long since ceased operating anyway. Claude, then, also symbolizes the changing times and an era that has passed.
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