Character Analysis in Borden Deal's Elephant & Watermelon Short Stories

In the stories, Elephant and The Taste of Watermelon, specific characters within their stories are presented as coming to a significant realisation in different ways, due to circumstance and the presentation of that which they have realised. In Elephant, Carver allows the character to encounter several realisations before reaching his ultimate realisation due to his eventual change in perspective, whilst in The Taste of Watermelon, Deal allows the main character to experience one particular realisation, which the reader is able to experience with the character.

In Elephant, Carver uses the main character's dreams as minor realisations before the main character comes to terms with his ultimate realisation concerning his change of perspective and as a result, his freedom. The main character's first realisation takes place in his first dream, and this is the first time the reader is able to see character depending on anyone else but himself; his father. In this scenario, his father represents his pillar of strength, or the "elephant" in his life signified by his father's words,  "I've got you, you won't fall".

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By the end of this dream, the main character realises that he has to be the same for his family; the one to be depended upon. Within the character's second dream, his second realisation becomes apparent to the reader; that things could always be worse that what they already are. Here, we see the character correlate the difference between being "rock bottom"; relating to the loss of family and relationships, and losing material things such as money.

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The idea of the first versus the second dream; stability versus "rock bottom", allows the character to encounter his significant realisation by instilling a sense of appreciativeness of that which he still has, such as his family relationships.

Furthermore, the use of everyday language in Elephant suggests that the main character's story is a reality for many people, as the simple language allows it to be accessible to many, particularly the typical middle-class American. This use of language, particularly due to this period in time in history, where the American economy was becoming increasingly volatile and the America dream seemed rather unattainable, allows some readers to come to the same realisation in their lives too. This, in turn, allows them to recognise the momentous realisation that the main character has encountered too, hence, making it much easier to identify as significant in nature.

In addition, in Elephant, the main character encounters a minor realisation; that running away from his problems would not necessarily result in the resolution of them. For instance, when the main character threatens to leave the country for Australia when "the truth was, [he] didn't want to go [there]", emphasises the character's desperation to remove himself from his dire situation. However, his reluctance to follow through with his threats may indicate his realisation that his departure could result in the worsening of his family relationships, which, towards the end of the story, the reader sees are extremely important to the character.

However, first and foremost, in The Taste of Watermelon, the short story is written in the reflective, rather than merely a narrative, as the author refers to "the summer when [he] was sixteen". This, simply, places the narrator in a state of maturation, implying the growth that he experienced simply due to his encounter and experience with Mr Wills. This is further emphasised in the main character's sense of regret, after hearing Mr Wills' plans for the melon, as "[He] didn't sleep that night", even referring to his wrongdoing as "terrible". His regret implies his realisation, seen by his apologetic nature following hearing of what great significance the melon symbolised to Mr Wills and his family.

Similarly, in The Taste of Watermelon, the most obvious way in which Deal suggests the main character's significant realisation is in his strength to apologise to Mr Wills. The character had developed the maturity to realise the importance of the melon, as "[his] sick wife hungered for the taste of that melon". The main character goes as far as collecting the leftover seeds, even "seeking for the last ones" from the sought after melon, highlighting the desperation of the main character to resolve the matter, and to replace what was lost.

Moreover, in The Taste of Watermelon, the striking theme of perception versus reality is explicit, which allows the realisation to mean that much more to both the main character and the reader. Deal specifically uses the exaggeration of Mr Wills and his features, describing him as a "big man", with "fierce eyes" and a shrivelling presence almost allows the reader to view him as rather violent and unapproachable. This provides the stark contrast between the children's thinking and Mr Wills story. Also, the way the author portrays Mrs Wills as "poorly" and selfless due to her wanting to invite the neighbourhood for watermelon at her house, evokes a sense of sympathy in the reader, as well as the main character, with Mr Wills and the main character switching roles to the protagonist and antagonist respectively, which makes the realisation that much more evident.

In addition, in both the short stories, the reader can easily recognise that the realisation is to do with a shift in perspective in the thinking of their main characters, however, in different aspects. In Elephant, there is a shift in perspective in the way in which the character views his situation. Instead of "worrying day and night" and focusing on the "troubles of his own" all the time, he begins to view it as a blessing, believing that appreciating his loved ones is far more important than worrying over materialistic pleasures. The main character even goes as "[hope his son] was happy" and "[hope his former wife] was doing okay". This emphasises the main character's appreciation for his family, despite their exploitation of his resources. However, in The Taste of Watermelon the shift in perspective is in the way the main character views Mr. Wills, rather than a change in circumstance as seen in Elephant. This is seen in the way the main character began by viewing Mr Wills as the man with "bright, fierce brows under heavy eyes" to the man who's "eyes didn't look as fierce as they had before". The main character's perception versus the unexpected reality encouraged a sense of growth within the character, with the reader witnessing his transition from his childish ways to his renewed sense of maturity, evidently suggested when the main character owns up to his wrongdoings.

In conclusion, one can easily decipher that the important factor which inevitably lead to the revelation of the significant realisation lies between the lines of perception, despite the different ways in which the stories portray it. Due to the realisations within the respective stories, the main characters undergo a sense of growth due to the shift in their perceptions, and their subsequent attempt to correct their circumstance, such as the main character's attempt to amend relations between Mr Wills and himself in The Taste of Watermelon, as well as the appreciative nature the main character develops towards his family in Elephant. In Elephant, his "freedom" as they "streaked down that road in [George's] big unpaid-for car" represents the main character's ultimate realisation, and his acceptance of it, displaying that his situation did not change, but his perspective sure did.

Updated: May 03, 2023
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Character Analysis in Borden Deal's Elephant & Watermelon Short Stories. (2019, Dec 06). Retrieved from

Character Analysis in Borden Deal's Elephant & Watermelon Short Stories essay
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