The whale pin that T. Ray gave to Deborah is symbolic of T. Ray’s complexity. T. Ray gave Deborah this pin when they were dating. August tells Lily that T. Ray treated Deborah like a princess. Lily is shocked to hear that T. Ray was not always a cruel man. Lily wears the pin when she confronts T. Ray. During this confrontation, T. Ray changes again. T. Ray momentarily experiences the rage and sadness he felt when Deborah left him. He acquiesces to Lily’s demand to stay with August. Finally, when Lily asks him the truth about her part in Deborah’s death, she notes that he softens a bit.
The whale pin and the story it carries with it help develop the main theme of the novel, which is that people’s lives are usually much more complex and complicated than they appear.
Lily has always assumed T. Ray is a mean man by nature; she never considered why he might be that way. The whale pin illustrates that, at one time, he was kind and gentle. However, T. Ray’s heart was broken and he has been bitter ever since.