Study Guide

Homecoming Water

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Right up until the end of this book, the Tillermans have no place to call home. But that doesn't mean there's not one place they always feel happy and content: by the water.

"It takes different things to make me glad […] The ocean," Dicey said. "And lots of room outdoors. But mostly the ocean." (1.10.144)

Dicey likes the water so much that once they're at Abigail's—even though she has a roof over her head—she still seeks the water for comfort:

For herself, Dicey chose the other back bedroom, because it looked to the water. (2.8.149)

Dicey constantly looks for water on their journey. She doesn't like to be too far from the coastline. Part of this is because the ocean means they can fish and find clams and mussels to eat (for free), but it's also because water means safety. Dicey just feels more comfortable when she and her siblings are sleeping by the water. And this is probably because their old house in Provincetown was right by the ocean:

"In Provincetown, we were right next to it. Behind the dunes, but next to it. I'm used to it. Yeah, I like it. I don't feel right unless I'm near the ocean." (1.8.150)

No matter where they are, then, the ocean helps Dicey feel connected to where she comes from; it grounds her. And Dicey imagines that Aunt Cilla's house will be by the water, too—it is on Ocean Drive, after all—but she's disappointed when she finds out that it's totally land locked there. This, of course, is a sign that things are not going to work out for the Tillermans with Cousin Eunice.

On the flip side, at Abigail's, the kids get to swim in the ocean. Abigail doesn't own a car—only a boat—and the kids spend tons of time in the water:

At the dock, they took turns fishing and swimming. They stripped down to their underwear and dove into the quiet water. The bay had no waves and no undertows. It was as calm as a swimming pool. You could swim miles in this quiet water. Dicey swam out, away from land, in a slow crawl. Her mind was working fast. There was a way, if only she could see it. Sammy and James took the few bony fish they had caught and baited the crab traps. Maybeth jumped off the dock into the water, then climbed back onto the dock to jump again. When she hit the water, waves surged up around her and the water she sprayed out turned golden in the setting sun. (2.8.247)

See what's happening here? Dicey turns to the water to help her think, to help her find a way to get Abigail to let the kids stay with her. And as we watch this happy scene—the kids are playing, the water turns "golden"—we are clued into the fact that Abigail is going to change her mind. The kids may not be invited to stay yet, but they are clearly already home based on their emotions and behavior.

And remember: Not only does Dicey love swimming in the water, she loves sailing on it, too—when she's on Jerry's boat, she finally feels free and at ease. And, of course, at Abigail's house, there's a sailboat just waiting to be fixed up.

Row, Row, Row Your Boat

Okay, so as much as we all know water can be dangerous, it's all pretty clear that Dicey just feels at home there. The water represents freedom and happiness, a place where can make your own life. Luckily, then, Dicey sees the world as one big ocean:

Maybe life was like a sea, and all the people were like boats. There were big, important yachts and little rafts and motorboats and sailboats and working boats and pleasure boats. And some really big boats like ocean liners or tankers—those would be rich or powerful people, whose lives engulfed many other lives and carried them along. Or maybe each boat was a kind of family. Then what kind of boat would the Tillermans be? A little one, bobbling about, with the mast fallen off? A grubby, worn-down workboat, with Dicey hanging on to the rudder for dear life. Everybody who was born was cast onto the sea. Winds would blow them in all directions. Tides would rise and turn, in their own rhythm. And the boats—they just went along as best they could, trying to find a harbor. (2.3.76)

If that sounds like a bit of a downer, remember, the Tillermans kids can handle themselves in the water. As much as they might be adrift in the sea of life, as Dicey says, "We can all swim. We were raised near the ocean" (2.8.245). It's as if, somewhere in her subconscious, Dicey knows the kids will be okay—life might be an ocean, but the Tillermans can handle themselves on the water. So someday, somehow, these kids are going to make it.

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