Themes

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Last Updated on May 5, 2015, by eNotes Editorial. Word Count: 711

Isolation is one of the main themes of The Story of Edgar Sawtelle . This theme is exemplified in the character of Edgar, who is mute and thus cut off from verbal communications with the people in his world.However, Edgar’s isolation is deepened when he comes upon what he believes is...

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Isolation is one of the main themes of The Story of Edgar Sawtelle. This theme is exemplified in the character of Edgar, who is mute and thus cut off from verbal communications with the people in his world.However, Edgar’s isolation is deepened when he comes upon what he believes is the secret of his father’s death. He learns this secret from the ghost of his father, which would be difficult enough to explain if Edgar could talk. Since he is mute, it is all but impossible to tell anyone, even his mother, about the apparition that he saw and what he learned from the experience. The story becomes more and more narrow until the end when Edgar is totally isolated from everything and everyone he has ever known. He is completely on his own without even his dogs to turn to. It is in the depths of this isolation that Edgar becomes frantic and makes mistakes that lead to his death.

The theme of coming-of-age also plays a critical part in this story. Edgar is at that pivotal age of fourteen, clearly between childhood and adulthood. At the beginning of the story, Edgar leans very much into the child aspect of his life, totally under the tutelage of his parents and his teachers. He accomplishes easy tasks around the house and farm, does what his parents tell him to do, and rarely has to make critical decisions on his own. After his father dies, however, with the role of paternal head of house vacated, slowly Edgar stretches toward adulthood to fill the position. Though Claude comes into the picture to take on the role, Edgar continues to go through the changes from child to adult as he makes consequential decisions on his own. He confronts the vision of his father and takes in the message that his father offers to him the idea that Claude was the cause of his father’s death. Edgar then gathers clues and confirms his suspicions, taking matters into his own hands to do so. Further exploration into his manhood occurs when Edgar runs away from home and must survive by his wits. He must find food for himself and his dogs. When one of his dogs is wounded, he must find a way to heal the dog. At the end of the story, Edgar decides to return home and face the consequences of his acts, which is another sign of maturity. Thus, the novel begins with Edgar as a boy and ends with him as a man.

There is a lot of love expressed in this story. The theme runs through the family relationships between Edgar and his parents as well as the love that his parents shared with one another. In addition to the human-to-human love, there is the love of the Sawtelles for their dogs. For generations, the Sawtelles have meticulously bred their special dogs to make great companions not only for themselves but for their customers.The love they show not only for the breed but, in particular, for some of the individual dogs makes reading this novel a dog-lovers’ dream.

Loss is another theme in Wroblewski’s novel. Trudy has several emotionally painful miscarriages at the beginning of the story, which set the stage for Edgar’s birth. Then there is the death of Gar, Edgar’s father. Later in the story, Almondine, Edgar’s most faithful canine friend, disappears. Edgar himself also disappears from his home. Even though his mother has suggested that Edgar leave to save himself from the police, she suffers through the loss of her son. When the veterinarian dies, Dr. Papineau, his son, Glen, must face that loss. The loss is so great that Glen easily falls for Claude’s scheme of revenge.

And then there is the theme of revenge. Glen is not the only one who has revenge on his mind. Edgar’s biggest motivation in this story is the revenge of his father’s death. He plots his route to proving that Claude murdered Gar. Even when all attempts seem to have failed, Edgar returns to face the instability that has engulfed his home for one last attempt to point the finger at Claude and satisfy his thirst for revenge.

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