In Watermelon Sugar

by Richard Brautigan

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Last Updated September 5, 2023.

In Watermelon Sugar is 1968 fictional postmodern and post-apocalyptic novel written by Richard Brautigan. It tells the story of a utopian place called iDEATH, where almost everything is made out of watermelon sugar. The book received many great reviews and is considered to be the second best novel by Brautigan, coming after the critically acclaimed Trout Fishing in America (1967). In Watermelon Sugar is a short story about love, life, and death that branded Brautigan as one of the most imaginative authors in postmodern literature.

Time and place are two interesting concepts of In Watermelon Sugar. The book might be set somewhere in the past or in the present, in a utopian commune called iDEATH that may or may not be an alternative universe in a completely different dimension. It might also be set in the future, in a post-apocalyptic society where the bigger percentage of earth’s population has been wiped out, and those who remained formed a community called iDEATH.

There, the stars are always red, and each day the sun shines in a different color, except on Thursdays, when it’s black and soundless. There are multicolored watermelons that produce watermelon sugar that the people of iDEATH use for nearly everything: making clothes, building houses, making food, and so on. The scenery is rich, and there are many rivers where the dead are buried in glowing glass coffins.

The main protagonist is a nameless narrator whose parents were killed and eaten by talking tigers. The people of iDEATH once lived harmoniously with these tigers, but they were hunted down once they started attacking the people and are now extinct. There are numerous statues erected in their honor all around iDEATH, all (of course) made out of watermelon sugar.

The narrator wants us to believe that he lives a happy and pleasurable life and that everything is in order, when the reality is very different. He has a girlfriend named Pauline who is quite happy in her day-to-day life in the community, working in the kitchen. However, it is his ex-girlfriend Margaret that constantly invades his thoughts. She is a curious woman who decides to befriend inBOIL, the story’s main antagonist, and often goes to “The Forgotten Works” where inBOIL and his men live.

“The Forgotten Works” is a place where numerous old machines and “forgotten things” can be found, which suggests that the action might be happening in a distant future, when people can no longer remember things that existed before their time. inBOIL decides to show to the community what iDEATH really is, and he and his men kill themselves in front of the narrator, the people, and their leader (Charlie) to prove that a happy, perfect society cannot exist without pain and suffering.

This reveals the most important theme of the novel: the merging of all opposites. Brautigan writes of a world where life cannot exist without death, love cannot exist without hate, and pleasure cannot exist without pain. These are not opposite concepts; instead, they are indistinguishable forces that coexist together. In the end, being the only one who understood inBOIL’s point and unable to live in a community that didn’t respect her, Margaret hangs herself. With her death, we learn that iDEATH is neither a utopian nor a dystopian society; it is both at the same time. It is a community that must learn to live with love and acceptance, but also a community that mustn’t forget about pain, suffering, and all of the emotions that make us human.

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