In “The Taste of Watermelon,” the narrator navigates his budding sexuality within the strict moral codes of the farming community where his family has recently relocated. The narrator and his two friends share a common romantic interest in Willadean, a neighbor whose father, Mr. Wills, terrifies them. In part to impress Willadean, the narrator steals Mr. Wills’s “seed watermelon,” the biggest watermelon ever grown in the community, and his two friends eat the watermelon illicitly, hiding in the woods behind Mr. Wills’s house. The watermelon and Willadean are parallel objects of sexual and romantic interest throughout the story: they both attract male attention, and Mr. Wills feels the need to protect both of them from that attention. Furthermore, the descriptions of the narrator’s desire for the watermelon are highly sexual: the narrator imagines “the sweet red juices oozing over his tongue,” and once he has stolen the watermelon, his pocketknife “penetrate[s] the thick green rind,” splitting the watermelon so that it “l[ies] open before” the three boys. However, this implied illicit sexuality results in moral catastrophe, as the narrator and his friends feel disgusted by their actions and realize the harm they have brought to the Wills family. By contrast, when the narrator apologizes to Mr. Wills for his crime, he and Willadean commence a much more acceptable romantic relationship within the community’s moral code, with the tacit approval of the adults present. The narrator offers to “set on the porch with Willadean anytime,” making Willadean blush and the two teenagers’ fathers laugh. By comparing these two opposing sexual and romantic experiences, the story suggests that teenage romance is acceptable, but only within the context of honesty (and with permission from adults).
Illicit Sexuality and Acceptable Romance ThemeTracker
Illicit Sexuality and Acceptable Romance Quotes in The Taste of Watermelon
She was my age, nearly as tall as I, and up to the year before, Freddy Gray told me, she had been good at playing Gully Keeper and Ante-Over. But she didn’t play such games this year. She was tall and slender, and Freddy Gray and J.D. and I had several discussions about the way she walked.
The moon floated up into the sky, making everything almost as bright as day, but at the same time softer and gentler than ever daylight could be. It was the kind of night when you felt you can do anything in the world, even boldly asking Willadean Wills for a date. On a night like that, you couldn’t help but feel that she’d gladly accept.
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.