Wolf Whistle

Wolf Whistle

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In his novel, Wolf Whistle, Lewis Nordan depicts a racist society. The society and the citizens within it are not only mean and nasty, but also self-absorbed. However, between narrating a loose account of a 14 year old black boy's murder and telling the stories of the citizens of Arrow Catcher, Mississippi, Nordan gives a sort of ray of hope for the future. Since the actual murder is somewhat a minor aspect of the novel, and the book lacks any real major black characters, readers may get the impression that this is a negative aspect of this book. In fact, that was the feeling that I got; it was as if the lack of concern for this murder implied how the whites actually viewed blacks, as not as important. Yet, maybe because of Bobo's murder, Nordan provides a kind of hope shown in some of the actions by the white characters.
But, what exactly is this hope? This hope is not to all of the sudden have a 180 degree turn and there be a type of utopia between races and classes. On the contrary, this hope is more of a chance. But, a chance at what? This little bit of hope that Nordan gives the Arrow Catcher community is more of a chance to broaden their horizons so to speak. It gives them a chance to think outside of the box which, in turn, means to think outside of themselves and the judgments that people carry and eventually pass down from generation to generation. It allows them a chance to educate themselves on racial and class differences, which will possibly, hopefully prevent them from continuing to be so ignorant. If the community were not to have this chance, Arrow Catcher could possibly never change. This change that the town needs is a different view. They need a different view of life and on people. They needed something to pry their eyes open, and this murder was the thing to do it.
Before the horrific murder took place, the people of Arrow Catcher did what he or she wanted to do. They thought only of themselves; they were what one would call self-absorbed. A good example of this can be seen in the characters of Runt and his son Roy Dale. Even though Runt was miserable without his wife, he refused to change. He did what he wanted to do, which was not necessarily what pleased him, but more or less satisfied him like hanging around at Red's Goodlookin Bar and Gro.

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and drinking. No matter how much he missed his wife, Fortunata, or realized that drinking was slowly killing him, he did not bother to do anything about these things. He even admitted that he "doubted" that she would even come back, because he had not changed (page 88). He obviously thought only of himself and not of what was good for him and his family (including his wife).
Likewise, Roy Dale was miserable without his mother. He was bitter, and he only did what he wanted to do which was mostly practice for the arrow-catching team. Yet, after the murder and all the events surrounding it took place, one sees these two characters began to change. For instance, Runt began to think of what he could do to make his wife happy such as to stop drinking and to give his parrot away. But, one sees Runt begin his transformation when he chooses to change his name. He believes that he wants to change his name because of the fact that "a body was found" which the reader eventually finds out is Bobo (page 196).
Moreover, within the novel, there were those few characters that offered to the other characters this little chance for change. Namely, these characters are Alice and Smoky Viner.
First of all, because Alice was able to have the chance to live away from Arrow Catcher, she has the advantage of having a different perspective on life as well as race than the other townspeople do. It is as if she sees things less through race and more through life, meaning, seeing things as well as people just as they are and not with a predetermined belief. To continue, Alice attempts to educate her students on everything even those things that today's society would consider not appropriate. She takes them on wild and seemingly unsuitable field trips for fourth grade children, such as to the murder trial or to see Glenn Gregg who is practically on his death bed.
Alice teaches her students to see things in their raw state, with no prejudgments. She teaches her students to think on their own, without the help of preconceived notions. Because of this, she gives a chance to them and for future generation(s). Alice gave them a chance to grow away from this community's ignorant way of thinking, a chance to think outside of the box. To illustrate this point, one can see the powerful affect that Alice had on her students when they pleaded to her in their minds, "[d]on't leave us, Alice, don't ever leave us in our narrow coffin of a world without you" (page 254). Obviously, if Alice had not come into their lives, they and their minds would have forever been trapped in this box (or "coffin").
Next, readers meet Smoky Vinear. At first, one probably thought nothing of his character except that it was another humorous event Nordan had added in not to make light of the rather serious subject, but just to relieve some of the pressure it brought on. However, no one ever expected this boy who is portrayed as being quite stupid and ignorant would be so brave. With those four little words, "I'm for the nigger," Smoky Viner, at the very least, gave people the chance to begin to change (page 204). To illustrate, because of the courage Smoky showed, he gave others, namely Roy Dale, the chance to think, most likely for the first time, on their own. In fact, moments later, Roy Dale had already begun to wonder "why he hadn't known enough to say what crazy Smoky Viner [had] said" (page 206). In the end, Smoky Viner had the courage to go against the crowd and stand up for what he believes in. Therefore, because of this, he too has given people the chance to think for themselves, without any predetermined ideas, or, in other words, to think outside of the box.
So, why then did Nordan describe his novel as "the white story of the murder of Emmett Till"? I believe it was because he wrote not of the actual murder, but of how the murder affected the white people. There were those few characters that had enough courage of their own to make the others begin to think and strive for that same bravery. He showed that there were actually people that could, with their own courage, bring about a hope for change.
By writing Wolf Whistle as he did, Nordan took on the task of not only remaining sensitive to this subject, but to also bring to light the affects this murder had on the white people. The murder was an event that made most of the characters stop and think. They, for most likely the first time, thought about more than just themselves. It made them realize that there was more to life as well as more people in life than only them. And, with this, one begins to understand why Nordan chose this way to tell the story of the murder of Emmett Till. After the murder, characters began to change. They began to change, because they finally were able to see the chance that they had.
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