Last Updated on May 5, 2015, by eNotes Editorial. Word Count: 1017
Edgar Sawtelle is the protagonist in Wroblewski’s The Story of Edgar Sawtelle . He is fourteen years old and is mute. His inability to voice his thoughts has led to Edgar’s becoming a very impressive observer of his environment and the people and other creatures around him. Edgar helps out on his family’s...
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Edgar Sawtelle is the protagonist in Wroblewski’s The Story of Edgar Sawtelle. He is fourteen years old and is mute. His inability to voice his thoughts has led to Edgar’s becoming a very impressive observer of his environment and the people and other creatures around him. Edgar helps out on his family’s farm and appears, in the beginning of the novel, to live an idyllic life. His parents are very supportive and engage him in the raising of their trademark dogs. Edgar’s first job is to name all the new puppies, which he does by looking through the dictionary for words that strike him as being well-matched to the pup sitting in front of him.Later, as the puppies are weaned from their mothers, Edgar helps to obedience train them. The author implies that Edgar’s relationship with the dogs goes deeper because both Edgar and the dogs use mostly nonverbal communications. Edgar believes that he can intuit what the dogs are thinking.
Edgar lives in isolation for a large part of the novel, especially after his father dies. Because he lacks verbal communications, he has difficulty relaying his emotions. Because his mother, Trudy, is also emotional distraught when her husband, Gar, dies, she often either misinterprets what Edgar is feeling or completely misses the cues that Edgar sends her way. For example, Edgar becomes suspicious of his Uncle Claude, his father’s brother. But he has no way to explain his skepticism or his downright fear of his uncle to his mother. He is left to his own devices to prove to himself and to his mother that something is not right with Claude. He has no one else to go to, except possibly, to his dogs.
Trudy, Edgar’s mother, is a gentle, loving woman, who becomes somewhat emotionally unbalanced after her husband dies. She is used to leaning on a man for both emotional and physical help. There is a lot of hard labor to be done around the farm and in raising the dogs, the family’s only source of income. Since Edgar is still a young teen and is still in school, much of the load of work falls into Trudy’s hands. So when Claude, her husband’s brother comes around, Trudy is susceptible to his charms. He offers to help out in his brother’s absence.Missing Gar, Trudy blindly accepts Claude as a substitute. Her judgment is clouded by her grief. Although her son, Edgar, attempts to warn her, Trudy pays little attention. She is too desperate to hear the truth.
Gar, Edgar’s father, was everything that his younger brother, Claude, was not. He was sincerely loving to both his wife and to Edgar. He had no ulterior motives. He was also hard working and honest. There were no dark marks or untold secrets in his past. When Claude shows up out of nowhere and needs a place to live, Gar opens his house and heart to him. There is no explanation as to where Claude has been, though there are hints thrown from the narration that Claude may have been in prison. The crime is never fully explained but might have had something to do with illegal dog fighting. Nonetheless, Claude is welcomed unconditionally. Trudy knows that previously something had happened between Claude and Gar that strained their relationship, but the circumstances and details of this dispute are never developed.
When Gar suddenly dies inside the barn with his son, Edgar, watching helplessly because he is unable to use the phone to call for help, Claude steps in to take advantage of the hole that Gar has left in Trudy’s life.Claude moves slowly. First he offers to help with the work. Later he makes his move on Trudy and finally ends up in her bed.
Edgar’s relationship with Claude is strained at first because of Claude’s moving in on his mother. But later, Edgar begins to suspect Claude of actually killing Gar. When Claude realizes that Edgar is trying to pin the death of Gar on him, he becomes incapable of having any compassion for the teenager and makes life hard on him. Claude attempts to turn Trudy against Edgar, which results in Edgar’s running away.
Minor characters in this novel include Dr. Papineau, the veterinarian for the Sawtelle dogs. Dr. Papineau is visiting the Sawtelle farm one day after Edgar suspects that Claude has killed his father. Edgar is in a rage after having had an argument with his mother. He is in the barn when he hears someone climbing the stairs to the loft. Edgar blindly swings a metal hook toward the sound. But as it turns out, the person was Dr. Papineau who was coming. The hook hits Dr. Papineau, who then falls down the stairs and dies. This is the action that causes Edgar to run away, fearful that the local police will charge him with murder.
Glen Papineau, the son of the veterinarian, is the local police officer.Claude has convinced Glen that there is something seriously wrong with Edgar and the boy might be responsible for Glen’s father’s death. So Glen searches for Edgar after the boy runs away, urged by Claude to bring the boy in for questioning. At the end of the story, Glen is blinded by lime that Edgar throws in his face as Edgar attempts to get away.
It is at Henry’s house that Edgar ends up when he runs away from home. Henry lives by himself and takes in Edgar and his dogs for a sense of adventure that he feels is missing from his life. Henry befriends Edgar and offers to drive him to the Canadian border, the place where Edgar hopes to begin a new life.
Almondine is a dog, but one who, for a short period of time, narrates this story. Edgar is raised with Almondine, so this dog supposedly knows Edgar better than anyone. She and Edgar communicate telepathically.She is one of the few dogs allowed inside the house.