What is "Whale Talk", and why is it important for the characters in the book of the same name?

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dymatsuoka eNotes educator| Certified Educator

According to TJ's father,

"Whales' language is as sophisticated as ours...a whale unleashes his cry, and it travels hundreds or even thousands of miles...every whale in the ocean will at one time or another run into that song...whales probably don't edit...whale talk is the truth, and in a very short period of time, if you're a whale, you know exactly what it is to be you".

Haunted by the memory of an accident in which he caused the death of a little boy, TJ's father lives in a lonely world of self-recrimination.  Overwhelmed by the pain he feels, he is angry at himself for his tragic carelessness, and at his "parents and relatives and teachers...and God...for not warning (him) this kind of pain even exists in the world".  TJ's father realizes that he "had reached adulthood without even knowing what it is to be human...nobody ever told (him) how dangerous it it, how risky".  He starts wishing he were a whale, because with their uncensored, uninhibited way of communication, "at least they know what it is to be a whale" (Chapter 10).

The characters in the book, especially those on the first Cutter High Swim Team, are all misfit, alienated souls.  The acceptance and camaraderie they experience in working together against impossible odds to earn their coveted letterman jackets is like whale talk to them, allowing them to express and share who they really are and find out what it means to be truly human.