Mr. Wills’s shotgun symbolizes the importance of vulnerability in masculine roles. In the beginning of the story, the gun is, in the community’s eyes, an expression of Mr. Wills’s over-the-top masculinity. The narrator’s first description of Mr. Wills’ gun links the weapon to what he perceives as Mr. Wills’ hyper-masculine, irrational anger, as he describes Mr. Wills watching his watermelon patch vigilantly, often with a gun under his arm. By guarding the melon every night with his shotgun, Mr. Wills projects an image of an obsessive and cruel father and husband: the narrator’s parents assume that he is neglecting his sick wife in his vigil over the melon, and the narrator thinks he cares more about the melon than his own daughter. The community furthers this impression by spreading the rumor that he loads his gun with buckshot: they believe that Mr. Wills is so irrationally over-protective of his property that he would kill someone to save a watermelon. Through all this gossip about the gun, the community therefore draws norms around masculinity and concludes that Mr. Wills deviates from those norms.
However, after the watermelon is stolen, the story ties Mr. Wills’s gun to a new expression of vulnerability, bringing him back within the accepted boundaries of masculinity. By “hurling the shotgun over his head” when he realizes the melon is gone, Mr. Wills’ throws away the symbol of overprotection. While the destructive rampage that ensues horrifies the narrator, Mr. Wills ends that destruction by talking quietly and “crying in such strength,” demonstrating a level of vulnerability he had not shown before. Far from ignoring his wife, Mr. Wills reveals that he was protecting the watermelon so diligently because he wanted to give it to her to cheer her up. The gun therefore comes to represent his care for his family. Further, when the narrator confesses, instead of angrily reaching for his gun as the narrator expects, Mr. Wills is vulnerable and honest, communicating his pain at having lost the watermelon and his shame at his own destructive behavior. Finally, by showing the narrator that the gun was really filled with salt pellets the whole time, Mr. Wills proves that he was not being irrationally overprotective, but instead acting within communal norms. By the end of the story, the gun therefore demonstrates Mr. Wills’s model masculinity, one that now expresses vulnerability and care as well as strength.
Shotgun Quotes in The Taste of Watermelon
He broke the shell in his strong fingers and poured the white salt out into his palm.
“You see?” he said.
“Yes, Sir,” I said, taking a deep breath. “I see.”
I went on, then, and the next year started that very day.