Wolf Whistle

by Lewis Nordan

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Wolf whistle is about a particularly brutal murder of a fourteen-year-old child and the prompt acquittal of the murderers. How, then, does Nordan offer hope for the future? Select two characters who suggest a glimmer of change to come and explain how they do so, as well as how they contribute to the overall plot and the themes of the novel as a whole. Some questions to consider: What cultural/societal forces do these characters struggle with and why? What personal circumstances do they struggle with? What do they seem to believe, and how do they demonstrate or express their beliefs. Then explain how each of the characters suggest hope for the future in the aftermath of the trial.

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Smoky Viner and Roy Dale Conroy are two characters who offer hope for the future in Lewis Nordan's Wolf Whistle. Nordan's novel, set in Mississippi in 1955, is based on the true story of Emmett Till. Bobo, a teenage black boy, wolf whistles at a white woman named Sally Anne Montberclair. The woman's husband and another man kill Bobo for the act. After Bobo's murdered body is found floating in a lake, Smoky, Roy Dale, and several other boys are playing around in the locker room at their high school. They soon begin to tell jokes about Bobo's murder. These same jokes are being repeated all over town, but the boys still find them funny.

Everyone is shocked into silence when Smoky Viner suddenly says, "I'm for the nigger." Roy Dale is made particularly uncomfortable by Smoky's statement, so he changes the subject by joking with his friend Phillip about Phillip's buck teeth. Smoky then says laughing at a murdered boy is wrong.

Another boy protests. “Uh, Smoky, it was a, you know, white lady. A colored boy and a white lady,” the boy says. These statements, which imply the murderers were justified in killing Bobo, echo the views of most of the white citizens in the town. Smoky himself admits that he laughed when he first heard the jokes. “I couldn’t help myself,” he says, perhaps realizing that his response has been conditioned by living amongst people who view African Americans as inferior. “I hope I live long enough to forgive myself for that laugh,” Smoky says.

Soon the boys’ archery coach arrives, pulls Roy Dale aside, and asks the boy to work with Smoky today. At practice, Roy Dale releases an arrow that strikes Smoky in the head. With the arrow’s release, however, Roy Dale appears also to release the pent-up anger he has held toward the adults in his life. Roy Dale also begins to feel that he could learn to love his father and express his anger toward the mother who abandoned him. He also seeks to resolve these newfound emotions with his laughter, just moments earlier, at the jokes about Bobo’s murder: “Maybe he could believe that his vile laughter at the death of a child, like himself, did not eliminate him from human hope, by its villainy." Roy Dale has begun to empathize with Bobo, seeing him as “a child, like himself”.

The novel ends on a hopeful note, as Sally Anne Montberclair and Alice Conroy browse the collection of oddities in Swami Don’s Elegant Junk. This friendly meeting between Sally Anne, a member of the town’s upper class, and Alice Conroy, who is descended from a poorer family, may indicate that the townspeople will be able to put aside classism and perhaps even racism in the wake of Bobo’s murder. The crystal ball in Swami Don’s seems to indicate a hopeful outcome. As the women are leaving the store, the crystal ball “shone with the bright blue light of empty interiors and of faraway and friendly stars and all their hopeful planets and golden moons.”

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