“The taste of Watermelon” examines the morality of a small farming community. At the beginning of the story, the narrator believes that his neighbor, Mr. Wills, is acting immorally, because he won’t allow teenage boys to steal watermelons from his field, a commonly accepted “rite of passage” in the community. The narrator’s parents support this notion, criticizing Mr. Wills for protecting his watermelon patch so obsessively. However, after stealing Mr. Wills’s giant watermelon, the seeds of which Mr. Wills intended to use for planting next year’s crop, the narrator realizes that he is the one who disobeyed the town’s moral code: in stealing the “seed melon,” the narrator not only wasted the bulk of the fruit, which should have been shared with the community, but also stole the seeds that would have made the community the site of “the greatest melon crop in the world.” As such, the story’s morality centers the good of the community rather than the benefit of any individual. The normal theft of watermelons is not seen as crime because it is an outlet for teenage boys’ rebelliousness, and as such, is good for the community. But the narrator’s theft of the seed watermelon is a crime, not because it is theft of private property, but because it places the narrator’s individual desires over the benefits that the watermelon would have brought to everyone. Ultimately, the narrator rights his transgression by bringing the seeds back to Mr. Wills and promising to work on the Wills farm next year, thus re-committing himself to the communal good. In this way, the story suggests that individual profit should be second to communal benefit.
Morality 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.
“I’m about as ashamed of myself last night as you are of yourself,” Mr. Wills said. He frowned at me with his heavy brows. “You ruined the half of it, and I ruined the other. We’re both to blame, boy. Both to blame.”