In Watermelon Sugar Summary
In Watermelon Sugar, by Richard Brautigan focuses on a settlement called iDEATH. It’s a surrealist novel that focuses on rebellion. The people of the iDEATH community stand in contrast to a city built on rubble called the Forgotten Works.
Almost everything in the commune of iDEATH is made from watermelon sugar, which is where the title comes from. One way to handle your assignment on the book is to organize it into three parts, like the three parts of the novel. The part called “Book 1” starts off with the first person narrator talking about some of the other characters like his girlfriend Pauline and his ex-girlfriend Margaret.
The other books continue to set up the central plot of the novel, which involves Margaret, the narrator’s girlfriend, making friends with a cult leader named InBoil, who goes to the Forgotten Works to make whiskey.
The plot, on the whole, can be difficult to follow, because it is so dream-like, with every day bringing a different colored sun, for example. Another example is how the narrator claims his parents were eaten by tigers that may possibly have been intelligent like humans. It’s definitely written in a way that invites interpretation, so it will likely help your case to interpret the plot a bit and come to a conclusion on your own whether each event is metaphorical or literal.
The plot can be interpreted as an allegory about how the perfect life in balance with nature might not be all it’s cracked up to be, for example.
In Watermelon Sugar takes place in a world where life is lived simply and everything is made from watermelon sugar, a substance refined from both the watermelons grown on the commune and Brautigan’s considerable imagination. The central character, another of Brautigan’s gentle narrators, is the only writer in what seems to be the only settlement left on the planet. In fact, intellectual and artistic pursuits are allowed but not encouraged in the commune called iDEATH. Most of the residents live their lives on a more literal, physical plane: making stew for the gang, turning watermelons into building materials, and constructing transparent underwater tombs. Life at iDEATH moves at a leisurely, idyllic pace.
The novel consists of three books. In book 1, the reader is introduced to the gentle lives of most of the main characters. Pauline, whom the narrator describes as “his favorite,” spends the night with him. When he was a child, a band of speaking, ironic tigers ate his mother and father—after sending him outside to play. Book 1 ends with the narrator wishing his former girlfriend Margaret would leave him alone.
Book 2 is both a dream and a flashback. In the narrator’s dream, a band of misfits led by inBOIL, who seethes internally, rummages through the debris in the Forgotten Works, a place that seems to represent the remains of a demolished culture that placed its primary value in things instead of people. In its profusion of objects and its physical complexity, the Forgotten Works resembles a demolished twentieth century America. The residents of iDEATH seem to represent a postmodern settlement that has survived some great catastrophe by placing values where they rightfully belong: on simple living, friendship, and love. In Watermelon Sugar, more strongly than any other of Brautigan’s books, espouses the ideals of the youth movement of the 1960’s.
The drunken gang that follows inBOIL believes that they represent the real iDEATH. In an effort to prove this, they cut off their fingers and noses and consequently bleed to death. The residents of the commune watch this bloodletting with more relief than honor, finally collecting the dead and burning them in their cabins close to the Forgotten Works. At the end of book 2, after the carnage, the narrator realizes that all of his feelings for Margaret have turned sour.
The opening of book 3 shows the narrator awakening from his flashback dream. He joins his friends from the commune and appears to be little affected by it....
(The entire section is 2,123 words.)