Many characters in “The Taste of Watermelon” struggle to feel included in the rural farming community where the story is set. The sixteen-year-old narrator feels like an outsider even among his two best friends, as he moved there only a year before the events of the story, and his friends still seem skeptical of him. The Wills family also seem to be outsiders in the community, as they do not socialize much with their neighbors. But each of these characters longs to belong to their community: the narrator wants to earn the acceptance of his friends, and the Wills family turns out to be trying to get friendlier with their neighbors. A big question of the story, then, is how one can successfully belong.
The narrator’s initial quest for acceptance comes at a huge cost: to impress his friends, he steals the giant watermelon from Mr. Wills’s farm. But after destroying the watermelon, the narrator and his friends quickly part ways, feeling guilty and depressed and not particularly connected to one another. Worse, the narrator then learns that Mr. Wills was growing the melon to cheer up his chronically ill wife, who was looking forward to sharing the watermelon with the neighborhood. By stealing the watermelon to fit in with his friends, the narrator crushed the Wills’s plans for acceptance in the community. Not being accepted himself, he knows that he’s done something grave. But the narrator redeems himself in a way that helps both him and the Wills family feel more connected: he apologizes to Mr. Wills and agrees to work on the Wills farm the next year to help make up for this year’s loss. In doing so, he builds a relationship with the Wills family, finally linking these neighbors together. The narrator’s initial attempt to belong—stealing the watermelon—backfired because it was rooted in cruelty, which doesn’t bring people together. By contrast, the narrator’s sincere apology and offer of help begins to weave him into the community. In this way, the story suggests that community can only be built on kindness and sincerity, not bravado and cruelty.
Exclusion, Cruelty, and Belonging ThemeTracker
Exclusion, Cruelty, and Belonging Quotes in The Taste of Watermelon
I met a terrapin taking a bite out of a small melon. Terrapins love watermelon, better than boys do. I touched him on the shell and whispered, “Hello, brother,” but he didn’t acknowledge my greeting. He just drew into his shell. I went on, wishing I was equipped like a terrapin for the job, outside as well as inside.
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.
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.