The Taste of Watermelon

by

Borden Deal

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Shotgun Symbol Analysis

Shotgun Symbol Icon

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

The The Taste of Watermelon quotes below all refer to the symbol of Shotgun. For each quote, you can also see the other characters and themes related to it (each theme is indicated by its own dot and icon, like this one:
Coming of Age and Masculinity Theme Icon
). Note: all page numbers and citation info for the quotes below refer to the Cambridge University Press edition of The Taste of Watermelon published in 2018.
The Taste of Watermelon Quotes

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.

Related Characters: The Narrator (speaker), Mr. Wills (speaker)
Related Symbols: Shotgun
Page Number: 308
Explanation and Analysis:
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The Taste of Watermelon PDF

Shotgun Symbol Timeline in The Taste of Watermelon

The timeline below shows where the symbol Shotgun appears in The Taste of Watermelon. The colored dots and icons indicate which themes are associated with that appearance.
The Taste of Watermelon
Rushing to Judgment Theme Icon
Illicit Sexuality and Acceptable Romance Theme Icon
...Mr. Willis sits guarding the melon every night, looking out his hayloft window with his gun. He hopes to plant the seeds from the big watermelon next year so he can... (full context)
Rushing to Judgment Theme Icon
Exclusion, Cruelty, and Belonging Theme Icon
Morality Theme Icon
...that on his walk tonight, he saw Mr. Wills guarding the melon anyway, with his “shotgun loaded with double-ought buckshot.” The narrator is astounded: double-ought buckshot “would kill a man.” But... (full context)
Coming of Age and Masculinity Theme Icon
Rushing to Judgment Theme Icon
Exclusion, Cruelty, and Belonging Theme Icon
Morality Theme Icon
Illicit Sexuality and Acceptable Romance Theme Icon
The thought of the buckshot in Mr. Wills’s gun bothers the narrator: who would kill someone over a watermelon? Freddy Gray wonders why the... (full context)
Coming of Age and Masculinity Theme Icon
...they hide behind willow trees and watch Mr. Wills sitting in the barn, holding his gun under the moonlight. (full context)
Coming of Age and Masculinity Theme Icon
Morality Theme Icon
...“chilled [the narrator] deep down...like the cry of a wild animal.” Mr. Wills throws his shotgun away from him and begins running up and down the field. At first, the narrator... (full context)
Coming of Age and Masculinity Theme Icon
Rushing to Judgment Theme Icon
Exclusion, Cruelty, and Belonging Theme Icon
Morality Theme Icon
...Wills asks if he stole the melon, and the narrator confesses. Instead of grabbing his shotgun, like the narrator expects, Mr. Wills leans down towards the narrator with gleaming eyes and... (full context)
Coming of Age and Masculinity Theme Icon
Rushing to Judgment Theme Icon
Exclusion, Cruelty, and Belonging Theme Icon
Morality Theme Icon
Illicit Sexuality and Acceptable Romance Theme Icon
...realizes he has one last question for Mr. Wills. “Was there double-ought buckshot in that gun?” Mr. Wills picks up the gun and takes out a shell. Breaking it with his... (full context)