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
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.
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.
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.
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.