In The Story of Edgar Sawtelle, the names of the dogs as well as the dogs themselves could be considered symbolic. Keep in mind each dog is named directly out of the dictionary. (One brief discussion point in the naming of the dogs is the question of whether they live up to the definition of their names, or they are named so perfectly that their character is defined before each is mature.) To fully explore this idea, I encourage you to make a list of the most important dogs in the story and consider the personality and key role of each dog. You will quickly begin to notice that the character of the dog comes to fit almost perfectly with its name. To help you get started, let's look at the following:
- Almondine: Edgar's "nurse" and protector from the time he is a baby; the constant companion of the entire family; brings comfort in the wake of death. Almond = Biblical symbol of watchfulness and promise; almond branches often portrayed artistically as holding the Baby Jesus.
- Forte: the original Forte was a dog of great size and strength; the stray/wild dog whom Edgar names Forte lives on his own in the wild. Forte = "fort" a stronghold; "Fortinbras" from Hamlet is the only one alive in the end to take on the throne.
- Essay: the "alpha" from Edgar's first litter; the one who teaches Edgar the most about training, himself, the dogs, etc. John Sawtelle's original vision (canis posterous) is realized in her seeming understanding of the fire and leading the other dogs away from harm; Essay = to put to a test; experimental effort.
Other symbolic elements in the book include nature (notice the way the weather often fits the mood of a scene; seasonal change parallels life changes), poison (displayed in the character of Claude, both literally and metaphorically), and record-keeping (records of the dogs to test and ensure genetic perfection; mental/emotional records or grudges which play out as the story progresses).