The Taste of Watermelon

by

Borden Deal

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Watermelon Symbol Analysis

Watermelon Symbol Icon

From the beginning of the story, references to the watermelon parallel references to the feminine. The watermelon, like Willadean, is the object of male attention: just as the three boys scrutinize Willadean’s manner of walking and appearance without any true intent of talking to her, they talk idly about stealing the melon without really meaning to do it. In both cases, the boys objectify the feminine, fantasizing about seizing it by force, rather than relating to it respectfully. Further, the melon even attracts “men from miles around to look at it,” reinforcing it as an object of male desire. As a result, Mr. Wills protects the melon as he would a female member of his family: the narrator notes that Mr. Wills “would rather you stole Willadean than his melon,” and the narrator’s parents criticize Mr. Wills for paying more attention to the melon than to his own sick wife. The melon attracts this male attention not only because of its size, but also because of its feminine quality of carrying life: it is Mr. Wills’s “seed melon,” meaning that, like a woman who can become pregnant, the melon carries the promise of next years’ melons within it.

When the narrator and his friends steal the melon, they disrespect this feminine object. Although the community tacitly condones teenage boys’ watermelon raids, the melon’s feminine quality of fertility exempts it from that agreement: as the narrator’s father says, “wouldn’t anybody steal a man’s seed melon.” Therefore, when the boys steal the melon, they disobey these communal norms about respecting femininity. The sexual wording in the descriptions of the narrator’s desire for the melon, as well as the boys’ wasteful consumption of the melon, suggest that the theft is a violently non-consensual act. However, this shameful experience teaches the narrator to respect the real women in his life, rather than treating them as sexual objects. By returning the melon’s seeds to Mr. Wills after reflecting on his actions, the narrator shows that he now understands the need to respect femininity. Through that interaction, he begins to relate far more respectfully to Willadean, looking into her eyes rather than objectifying her body to his friends. By the end of the story, the watermelon has therefore come to symbolize the importance of respecting women.

Watermelon Quotes in The Taste of Watermelon

The The Taste of Watermelon quotes below all refer to the symbol of Watermelon. 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

It surged up out of me – not the idea of making my name for years to come by such a deed, but the feeling that there was a rightness in defying the world and Mr. Wills.

Mixed up with it all there came into my mouth the taste of watermelon. I could taste the sweet red juices oozing over my tongue, I could feel the delicate threaded redness of the heart as I squeezed the juices out.

Related Characters: The Narrator (speaker), Mr. Wills
Related Symbols: Watermelon
Page Number: 303
Explanation and Analysis:

We gorged ourselves until we were heavy... We gazed with sated eyes at the leftover melon, still good meat peopled with a multitude of black seeds...

“There’s nothing we can do,” J.D. said. “I can just see us taking a piece of this melon home for the folks...”

We were depressed suddenly, it was such a waste, after all the struggle and the danger, that we could not eat every bite. I stood up, not looking at the two boys, not looking at the melon.

Related Characters: The Narrator (speaker), Freddy Gray, J.D.
Related Symbols: Watermelon
Page Number: 304
Explanation and Analysis:

Mr. Wills was tearing up and down the melon patch, and I was puzzled by his actions. Then I saw; he was destroying every melon in the patch. He was breaking them open with his feet, silent now, concentrating on his frantic destruction. I was horrified by the awful sight, and my stomach moved sickly.

Related Characters: The Narrator (speaker), Mr. Wills
Related Symbols: Watermelon
Page Number: 305
Explanation and Analysis:

Watermelon raiding was a game, a ritual of defiance and rebellion by young males. I could remember my own father saying, “No melon tastes as sweet as a stolen melon,” and my mother laughing and agreeing.

But stealing this great seed melon from a man like Mr. Wills lay outside the safe magic of the tacit understanding between man and boy.

Related Characters: The Narrator (speaker), Mr. Wills
Related Symbols: Watermelon
Page Number: 306
Explanation and Analysis:
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The Taste of Watermelon PDF

Watermelon Symbol Timeline in The Taste of Watermelon

The timeline below shows where the symbol Watermelon 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. Wills is growing the biggest watermelon anyone has ever seen, right in the middle of his patch. Men travel miles to... (full context)
Rushing to Judgment Theme Icon
Exclusion, Cruelty, and Belonging Theme Icon
Morality Theme Icon
The narrator and his parents often watch Mr. Wills guarding his watermelon at night and gossip about it. His father thinks it is silly to guard it,... (full context)
Coming of Age and Masculinity Theme Icon
Exclusion, Cruelty, and Belonging Theme Icon
Illicit Sexuality and Acceptable Romance Theme Icon
Around the time the watermelon should be ripe, there is a full moon, and the three boys decide to go... (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 buckshot in Mr. Wills’s gun bothers the narrator: who would kill someone over a watermelon? Freddy Gray wonders why the narrator is so angry, asking him half-jokingly if he was... (full context)
Coming of Age and Masculinity Theme Icon
The narrator tells his friends he intends to steal the watermelon that very night. They protest, telling him the moon is too bright and he will... (full context)
Coming of Age and Masculinity Theme Icon
...his friends’ white faces watching from the willows. He sees a terrapin eating a small melon and wishes “he was equipped like a terrapin for the job, outside as well as... (full context)
Coming of Age and Masculinity Theme Icon
Exclusion, Cruelty, and Belonging Theme Icon
He considers just carving his name into the watermelon but decides he needs to actually take it. So he breaks the stem. Mr. Wills... (full context)
Exclusion, Cruelty, and Belonging Theme Icon
Morality Theme Icon
Illicit Sexuality and Acceptable Romance Theme Icon
The three boys carry the watermelon back to the swimming hole, almost dropping it three or four times because it’s so... (full context)
Coming of Age and Masculinity Theme Icon
Exclusion, Cruelty, and Belonging Theme Icon
Morality Theme Icon
Illicit Sexuality and Acceptable Romance Theme Icon
After eating all they can, the boys haven’t even consumed half of the melon. Realizing that they can’t share the watermelon with anyone else, they become depressed at all... (full context)
Coming of Age and Masculinity Theme Icon
The narrator follows his father into the watermelon patch, passing Mrs. Wills and Willadean, who are huddled in the kitchen doorway. The narrator’s... (full context)
Coming of Age and Masculinity Theme Icon
Rushing to Judgment Theme Icon
Exclusion, Cruelty, and Belonging Theme Icon
Morality Theme Icon
Mr. Wills tells them that he had been planning to give the watermelon to his wife, who has been sick since the spring. He planned on saving the... (full context)
Coming of Age and Masculinity Theme Icon
Morality Theme Icon
When daylight arrives, he walks towards the swimming hole, where the wasted watermelon greets him, reminding him of Mr. Wills’s destructive rampage last night. He collects all the... (full context)
Coming of Age and Masculinity Theme Icon
Rushing to Judgment Theme Icon
Exclusion, Cruelty, and Belonging Theme Icon
Morality Theme Icon
...narrator holds out the bag of seeds, telling him that they are from the seed melon. Mr. Wills asks if he stole the melon, and the narrator confesses. Instead of grabbing... (full context)