What Does Cast Down Your Bucket Mean?

Cast Down Your Bucket Where You Are Meaning

Definition: You have valuable resources where you are. You don’t need to go elsewhere to find them.

Origin of Cast Down Your Bucket

This expression originally comes from the story Moby Dick, by the American author Herman Melville, published in the year 1851.

In this story, a ship is lost in the Atlantic Ocean. Those on the ship are dying of thirst. They finally see another ship. They call out for water, and the people on the other ship tell them cast down your bucket where you are.

When the thirsty people lower their buckets into the ocean, they find the buckets filled with freshwater, not saltwater. They are amazed to find they are near a large river, the Amazon, which flows into the ocean and makes the water drinkable in that area.

This story and this expression became more popular after a speech called “The Atlanta Compromise” in the year 1895.

Booker T. Washington was the man who gave this speech. In this speech, he urged black Americans in the South to stay in the South and use their skills to prosper there. He also urged white Americans with businesses to hire black Americans who were already local, rather than hiring immigrants. He believed those in the South should support themselves with the own resources that they already had.

Examples of Cast Down Your Bucket

cast down your bucket where you are quoteIn this example, two sisters are discussing where to go to school.

Amy: I want to leave Texas and go to university in New York City. I want to experience adventure, meet new people, and learn from the best professors.

Kimberly: Then you should cast down your bucket here! We have all that in Texas, and you’d spend less money on school. And then it would be easier for you to find a job here. People in this area need more skilled professionals, but everyone keeps leaving to find jobs elsewhere.

define cast down your bucket where you are In the second example, two friends are discussing the Booker T. Washington speech.

Keira: In that Booker T. Washington speech, when he told the black Americans to cast down their buckets, did he mean that they should stop working so hard? I thought he meant that the black Americans were doing all the work, but the white Americans were getting all the profit.

Rory: No, he wanted them to work together. He thought that they could take their resources in the South, and work as a team to build a strong economy.

More Examples

In this quote, a man applies the Booker T. Washington quote to his modern life.

  • “I can’t think of being anywhere else,” Bellamy said of the nation’s largest African-American theater. “For me, it was a simple statement by Booker T. Washington: ‘Cast down your bucket where you are.’ You don’t have to go anywhere to do things. I was in St. Paul. And from that little 260-seat theater, we have reached around the world.” –Pioneer Press

This excerpt uses the expression to suggest changes for South Africa.

  • To underline the point, a famous plea by 19th century African-American leader Booker T Washington was aptly invoked: “Cast down your bucket where you are.” –Daily Maverick


The phrase cast down your bucket is from a story about people who thought they needed to travel far away, or find help, in order to save their own lives.

In fact, they had what they needed with them all along. People reference this in order to say that it isn’t necessary to travel to get what you need. It can also mean that you don’t need help, but can do something on your own.