What are the major themes in Whale Talk by Chris Crutcher? All themes developed in the novel.

Expert Answers

An illustration of the letter 'A' in a speech bubbles

Whale Talk is a young adult novel that tells the story of The Tao (T.J.) Jones. One of the major themes of the story is of exclusion and ostracism. T.J. goes to Cutter High School in Washington State and, though he is a gifted athlete, he does not take part...

Unlock
This Answer Now

Start your 48-hour free trial to unlock this answer and thousands more. Enjoy eNotes ad-free and cancel anytime.

Start your 48-Hour Free Trial

Whale Talk is a young adult novel that tells the story of The Tao (T.J.) Jones. One of the major themes of the story is of exclusion and ostracism. T.J. goes to Cutter High School in Washington State and, though he is a gifted athlete, he does not take part in any school sports. T.J. is adopted and of mixed-race heritage. He is a kind, protective, and caring character who has suffered from bullying and racism. When asked to participate in a sporting activity T.J. decides to form the Cutter High School, swim team. He invites those that are considered the ‘misfits’ of the school to join him—those like him who are physically or emotionally damaged, who have suffered from prejudice and mistreatment: Chris Coughlin still suffers after the death of his brother, Daniel Hole is bullied for being a geek, Simon DeLong is bullied for being overweight, Jackie Craig is unable to speak, Andy Mott is physically disabled and was abused as a child, and Tay-Roy Kibble is a burned-out wrestler.

Approved by eNotes Editorial Team
An illustration of the letter 'A' in a speech bubbles

The novel Whale Talk written by Chris Crutcher is a novel about a young boy named T.J. In this novel, T.J. is an adopted boy who lives in Cutter, Washington. There are two major themes in this novel, discrimination and sense of self.

The idea of discrimination is a theme in this novel and appears on multiple occasions. One example of discrimination in this novel is when a character named Rich Marshall adopts the illegitimate daughter of his wife. This daughter happens to be half-black. Rich names her a predominately "white" name. T.J. learns that this girl, Heidi, is being abused by Rich when he meets her accidentally at a therapy session. Another time that discrimination occurs in this novel is when the school bully, Mike Barbour, picks on another student named Chris Coughlin who is intellectually disabled.

Sense of self, or the search for identity, is another theme in this novel. T.J. struggles to find a place where he feels welcome and comfortable. T.J. eventually finds a place where this is possible when he starts his swim team.

Other themes in this novel include: adoption, blended families, stress, universality of human existence, and multiculturalism.

Approved by eNotes Editorial Team
An illustration of the letter 'A' in a speech bubbles

     When searching for the themes of a novel, it may be helpful to identify topics that are addressed, and then ask yourself, what kind of message is conveyed about each of these topics in the novel?  For example, in Whale Talk, one topic that may be identified is identity.  Many of the characters in the novel struggle with forming identities with which they feel comfortable.  T.J. finds it difficult to truly identify with any of the ethnicities which make up his mixed background.  He also finds it difficult to be accepted in society because of the strong presence of racism not just in his hometown, but in the entire country.  Chris Coughlin is another character who struggles with identity.  He is mentally handicapped and he clings to the identity of his older brother who has passed away.  He does so through his letter jacket.  However, the jocks of the school criticize Chris for wearing a jacket he has not "earned".  This injustice is what leads T.J. to form a swimteam in which the outsiders of the school find a place to feel accepted.  So, what is the statement about identity?  You might say that one must take a journey to find identity and that journey needs others to guide the way.  People find out who they are through the help of the perspectives of others.  Everyone needs some kind of positive encouragement to be confident in his or her identity. 

     The theme of identity also connects to the theme of the universality of human existence.  The title refers to a video watched by T.J.'s father of whales communicating.  T.J.'s father compares this to human communication.  Though all humans may need to hear the same messages, he feels as though some never do. 

     I hope this helps.  To find other themes, try to identify topics or issues addressed throughout the entire novel, and evaluate the overarching statement about each one.

Approved by eNotes Editorial Team