Themes and Meanings

(Literary Essentials: African American Literature)

In Train Whistle Guitar, Murray takes his reader into the center of the briar patch of post-Reconstruction confederacy, Alabama in the 1920’s, and draws on that canvas a portrait of the human spirit overcoming its environment of adversity and absurdity to make life good. His message, like that of the storytelling voices in the train-whistle guitar of Luzana Cholly, is that happiness, although provisional and mixed with pain, is achievable, and therefore so is a life without illusion but in which hope is nevertheless a justifiable and nourishing emotion.

Within the context of restrictive and destructive pressures of racism, the citizens of Gasoline Point construct a culture that is so realistic about life and so beautiful that within the context of its richness racism can be seen to be merely one of the grosser of humanity’s limitations. This visionary and expansive perspective on life creates possibilities for growth and fulfillment by developing and constantly reinforcing a strong and affirmative sense of selfhood on the part of individuals and of the community as a self-identifying whole.

As seen in the lives of Scooter and his friends, the community moves to encourage its young to go in quest of such an identity, directly through schooling that prepares individuals to fully realize their potentials in ways that will also contribute to the progress of the entire community, and indirectly through the modeling and contextual support of family and church. Scooter exemplifies those individuals who look outward, with curiosity, confidence, and imagination (as he does from his lookout at the top of the chinaberry tree) and those individuals who apply themselves with purpose and discipline to overcome obstacles to their full self-development. Scooter remembers, from his earliest reading with Miss Tee, that the littlest engine tried and did. When he returns to his hometown as a...

(The entire section is 782 words.)