The Taste of Watermelon

by

Borden Deal

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The Taste of Watermelon Study Guide

Welcome to the LitCharts study guide on Borden Deal's The Taste of Watermelon. Created by the original team behind SparkNotes, LitCharts are the world's best literature guides.

Brief Biography of Borden Deal

Borden Deal spent his early years on his parents’ farm in rural Mississippi, where he found lifelong passions for fishing and reading. After losing their farm during the Great Depression, the family relocated to a communal farming project. Deal then left home at the age of sixteen, after his father died in a truck accident. For the next decade, he worked many different jobs, including fighting wildfires with the Civilian Conservation Corps in the Pacific Northwest, harvesting wheat as a migrant laborer, and serving as an aviator cadet in the US Navy during World War II. In 1946, the author attended the University of Alabama, where he studied English, creative writing, and the philosophies of Carl Jung. He published his first short story, Exodus, in 1948, while still in university. He then went abroad for graduate school at Mexico City College, where he met his first wife, Lillian Slobotsky. This marriage produced one child but ended quickly in divorce. In 1952, Deal moved to Alabama and married the author Babs Hodges, with whom he would have three children before their divorce in 1975. In 1956, he began a prolific career of full-time writing, ultimately publishing twenty-one novels and over one hundred short stories. Much of his work depicts the daily lives of rural Southerners, often centering on their connection to land. During his four-decade writing career, Deal won multiple awards, including the 1957 Guggenheim Fellowship. A year after marrying his third wife, Patricia Deal, the author died of a heart attack at the age of 63.
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Historical Context of The Taste of Watermelon

Deal romanticized small-scale Southern farming communities at the very time when those communities were declining due to urbanization. In “The Taste of Watermelon,” the narrator experiences the tension between the rural and the urban, as his family moved from “town” to the rural community where the story is set. In reality, when Deal was writing this story in the 1970s, many southerners had moved in the opposite direction, leaving their rural communities for urban areas. When Deal was growing up in the 1920s, the Southern economy was based largely in small-scale agriculture and deep racial division, a system created after the Civil War to preserve the power of the ruling white elite. However, the Great Depression began to unravel this system, as many rural Southerners, including Deal’s family, were forced to sell their farmland during the economic crash. The 1933 introduction of the Tennessee Valley Authority, a federal agency that provided public infrastructure to the South, built up Southern urban centers in the decades of the 1940s and 1950s. At the same time, through the Great Migration, many Black agricultural workers relocated to northern urban areas to escape white supremacist terrorism, contributing further to the decline of the Southern agricultural economy. This urbanization continued through the civil rights movement of the 1960s and 1970s. As a result, Deal was writing in a time of Southern identity crisis: the increasingly urban Southern communities of the 1970s looked very little like the rural Southern communities Deal had grown up in. By writing about a harmonious community of small-scale farmers, Deal is processing this changing Southern identity, and possibly expressing nostalgia for the South of his childhood.

Other Books Related to The Taste of Watermelon

Deal’s writing grew out of the literary traditions of the Deep South, where the author spent much of his life. In many ways, “The Taste of Watermelon” echoes Mark Twain’s famous novel, Adventures of Huckleberry Finn, published in 1884. Although Deal wrote almost a century after Twain, both stories use a white southerner colloquial dialect to track a young boy’s adventures as he comes of age in the rural South, and both Twain and Deal draw on a collective white Southern identity. Additionally, Deal would have been inspired as a young writer by the Southern Renaissance movement, a literary period when Southern authors of the 1920s and 1930s began receiving more literary acclaim for their realistic representations of Southern communities. William Faulkner was one of the most renowned authors within this movement, and his 1931 short story collection, These 13, depicts the daily lives of rural Mississippians. While “The Taste of Watermelon” similarly describes rural Southerners’ daily lives, Deal’s narrative style differs greatly from Faulkner’s experimental stream of consciousness style. Deal's much more straightforward narration stems in part from his reading of the German philosopher Carl Jung, who theorized that all of humanity shares a “collective unconscious,” made up of ancient symbols, mythologies, and emotions. In a 1968 article, “Storytelling as Symbolism, Deal explains his belief that through narrative story-telling, the author taps into this shared unconscious state. For this reason, Deal’s writing style focuses heavily on straightforward narrative, using his characters’ everyday lives to explore themes that he believed were timeless and universally human.
Key Facts about The Taste of Watermelon
  • Full Title: The Taste of Watermelon
  • When Published: 1979
  • Literary Period: Post World War II Southern Fiction
  • Genre: Short story
  • Setting: A small agricultural town in the rural American south
  • Climax: The narrator apologizes to Mr. Wills
  • Antagonist: Mr. Wills
  • Point of View: first person

Extra Credit for The Taste of Watermelon

Eclectic Work. Deal worked many odd jobs before becoming a full-time writer, including being a “skip tracer,” a private investigator who locates people who have attempted to escape legal problems.

Anonymous. Deal’s highest grossing series was published under the pseudonym, “Anonymous,” and only revealed as his writing after his death. The series consisted of nine sexually explicit novels.