The Story of Edgar Sawtelle

by David Wroblewski

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Key characters, themes, and plot points in The Story of Edgar Sawtelle

Summary:

The Story of Edgar Sawtelle centers on Edgar, a mute boy who communicates through sign language and has a special bond with dogs. Key themes include communication, loyalty, and the struggle between good and evil. The plot follows Edgar's journey of self-discovery, particularly after his father's mysterious death, and his quest to uncover the truth while navigating complex family dynamics.

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Who is the antagonist in The Story Of Edgar Sawtelle?

The novel The Story of Edgar Sawtelle tells the tragic tale of a boy named Edgar who cannot speak. Edgar’s life descends quickly into chaos when his father is mysteriously murdered. Soon, Edgar is forced to flee into the woods with his dogs in order to save his own life.

While Edgar is the clear protagonist of the story, the antagonist is revealed as the story unfolds. It turns out that Edgar’s uncle, Claude, is the chief antagonist. A solitary person, Claude had served in the navy for several years. Edgar’s father offers Claude a job on their dog farm. However, events don’t go as planned as Edgar’s father and Claude seem to have deep-seeded resentments toward each other. Eventually, Edgar’s father ends up murdered and returns to Edgar as a ghostly vision, suggesting Claude killed him. Edgar finds further evidence to suggest Claude’s guilt and goes to avenge his father’s death. Through a series of events, Edgar ends up killing a different person and Claude plans to use this to convince others that Edgar killed his own father. The end of the story pits the nephew and uncle against each other in true Hamlet style.

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Who are the main characters in The Story of Edgar Sawtelle?

The main character in the story is Edgar.  Edgar is unique because he is mute.  When the story begins he is fourteen years old.  Edgar is a young boy who, like Hamlet, knows that his father was murdered.  Edgar eventually realizes that Claude, his uncle, killed his father, Gar.  Gar’s wife, Edgar’s mother, is named Trudy.  Edgar suspects that his mother and uncle have a sexual relationship, which enrages him.  Eventually he gets revenge against his uncle.

Edgar is not good at communicating, because he is mute.  He lives alone, interacting with the dogs more than people.  His parents did not know what to do with him at first, but they knew how to raise the dogs.

  1. And all infants need the same things, pup or child, squalling or mute.  They clung to that certainty: for a while at least, it didn’t matter what in him was special and what ordinary. (Part I: Forte’s Children/Signs, p. 37)

Interestingly enough, Claude is not the scheming evil man that Claudius is in Hamlet.  The relationship between Trudy (who is sweet and innocent) and Claude develops naturally.  Edgar is not accepting of it, despite his father’s death.

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Who dies at the end of The Story of Edgar Sawtelle?

In the novel, The Story of Edgar Sawtelle, both Claude and Edgar die at the end.  Claude uses a poisoned needle on Edgar which eventually kills him as he thinks back on the recent parts of his life like taking the dogs and running away.  He finally realizes what his grandfather was doing with the dogs, but dies before he can escape the burning barn.  Claude also is unable to escape the burning barn as he waits too long to make sure that Edgar will not be able to tell his mother about the evil Claude has brought into her life.  So, the two people who die at the end are Edgar and Claude.

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What are some key quotations and themes in The Story of Edgar Sawtelle?

Two themes in The Story of Edgar Sawtelle by David Wroblewski are human-animal relationships and animal companionship. In the beginning of the book, the author writes about John’s Sawtelle’s relationship with Violet and her puppies. Wroblewski writes:

He could have given all the pups away to strangers, and he suspected he was going to have to, but the thing was, he liked having those pups around. (13)

According to the author, Mr. Sawtelle loved the puppies in an obsessive manner. He spent a lot of time with dogs and taught them new tricks. Mr. Sawtelle knew that he had to give the puppies away, but he was hesitant that they would be neglected by their new owners. Wrobleweski notes:

The best thing would be if he could place them all in the neighborhood so he could keep tabs on them, watch them grow up, even if from a distance. (14)

Mr. Sawtelle developed a strong bond with Violet and her puppies, and it was difficult for him to give away the latter. Therefore, he always wanted to keep an eye on them.

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What are some key quotations and themes in The Story of Edgar Sawtelle?

Edgar Sawtelle is a young deaf boy who grows up with an extraordinary connection to the dogs he and his family breed and train. In the midst of his contented life, tragedy strikes and Edgar must learn how to adapt, something he is better at in some ways than in others.

Two of the most significant themes from The Story of Edgar Sawtelle by David Wroblewski include the following:

  1. Change is inevitable

Edgar loses his father and suspects that his father's brother, Claude, had something to do with it. Even worse for the boy is the fact that his mother becomes involved with his trouble-maker Uncle Claude. The animals and business he so loves are in jeopardy, and the changes are not positive ones. Edgar's mother addresses the issue with him this way:

“Edgar, there's a difference between missing him and wanting nothing to change," she said. "They aren't the same things at all. And we can't do anything about either one. Things always change. Things would be changing right now if your father were alive, Edgar. That's just life. You can fight it or you accept it. The only difference is, if you accept it, you can get to do other things. If you fight it, you're stuck in the same spot forever. Does that make sense?"

   2.  Bloodlines (heritage and legacy) matter.

The Sawtelles, starting with Edgar's grandfather, have raised dogs, and they keep records of all of the dogs who are bred and born as part of a canine lineage. Where a dog comes from is a predictor of what kind of dog it will be. How it is trained after that matters, but the breeding is essential to the mix. Edgar's father explains it to his son this way:

So a dog's value came from the training and the breeding. And by breeding, Edgar supposed he meant both the bloodlines--the particular dogs in their ancestry--and all the information in the file cabinets. Because the files, with their photographs, measurements, notes, charts, cross-references, and scores, told the story of the dog--what it meant, as his father put it.

This principle is true not only of dogs but of humans, as Edgar discovers with his father, with Claude, and with himself.

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What are the main themes in the book The Story of Edgar Sawtelle?

One of the themes of The Story of Edgar Sawtelle is the use of different forms of language to communicate. Edgar is born mute, so he can only communicate with his parents and the dogs around him using a private form of sign language. However, he is able to make himself understood, and the dogs around him understand him perfectly. After his father mysteriously dies, Edgar can even communicate his suspicions to his uncle, Claude, in a way that is perfectly understandable. It is actually the verbal characters who are more confusing; for example, Edgar does not understand the disagreements that erupt between his father and his uncle. The author writes:

Though the details differed each time, Edgar got the idea that Claude and his father had slipped without their knowing it into some irresistible rhythm of taunt and reply whose references were too subtle or too private to decipher. Whatever the dynamic, it wasn't Claude's only aversion. Group discussions left him looking bored or trapped. (122)

Interestingly, Edgar, who uses his own signs combined with a form of American Sign Language, can communicate more clearly than characters such as Claude, who are verbal.

Another theme in the book is the wisdom of animals and their sixth sense. While Edgar struggles to understand his parents and, later, his uncle and the vet who works with his dogs, the animals around him seem to understand everything. For example, Edgar's dog, Almondine, senses Edgar's arrival before he is even born. The author writes of the dog, "Eventually, she understood the house was keeping a secret from her" (47). She knows that Edgar is on his way and that she will have a special relationship with him before he is born. However, the human characters in the novel do not have the insight and wisdom that the dogs do. 

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What are the main themes in the book The Story of Edgar Sawtelle?

In the novel, The Story of Edgar Sawtelle, the main character Edgar is born mute.  As a result, one of the themes is the isolation he feels.  He cannot communicate with others outside the family very well, and withdraws to the family's dog farm.  At the beginning of the book, Edgar is still in his childhood phase, but when his Uncle Claude appears whom Edgar does not like, he begins his transition out of childhood into a more adult state. When Edgar's father dies mysteriously, Edgar suspects Claude who is already trying to gain his mother's sympathy and favor.  This growing up or coming of age is another theme in the story, and while the reader roots for Edgar, the story ends tragically.  The other two themes I see in the novel are the love and loss which Edgar's family experiences.  The family loves each other as seen in the care of Edgar and the family dogs whom they have bred for years.  The losses are many: the father, some of the best dogs, the innocence of childhood, and the sadness and anger of revenge.  In the end, Edgar finds proof that his Uncle Claude killed Edgar's father, Edgar is stabbed with the same poison which killed his father, and Claude dies in the fire.  The theme of loss is carried through to the very end.

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