Wolf Whistle's primary theme is racism—particularly the inherent absurdity of racism. To underscore that thematic concern, the author populates the novel with ridiculous, bizarre, and magical characters, events, and small details. In addition to Alice’s visions, talking pigeons, and the view from Bobo’s “immortal eye,” the narrative even adopts the point of view of the buzzard Ross Barnett, named after the Mississippi governor and segregationist. Although much of what happens in Wolf Whistle is impossible in the real world, the central and most shocking event in the novel—the senseless and brutal murder of a black boy who whistled at a white woman—did in fact happen. By juxtaposing a retelling of Emmett Till’s murder with impossible or surreal events, Nordan emphasizes that inhumane acts of racism make just as much sense as talking animals do.
Despite the brutalities depicted in Wolf Whistle, the novel also acknowledges the undeniable beauty in the world. Both beauty and ugliness abound in human experience, and sometimes the two are found, as Southerners say, "right smack dab against each other." For example, right after Solon hauls Bobo away to his death, readers see the beauty of Uncle and Auntee’s simple yet extraordinary love. As the storm turns the scenery to mud, the author acknowledges, “the Mississippi Delta is not always dark with rain” and describes exquisite sunrises over the lakes. Later, in the courtroom, everyone is awestruck by the parrot’s splendor as it soars above them, and then Solon flings a slew of expletives at Uncle that is, in terms of diction, fouler than any other passage in the novel.
The theme of the coexistence of beauty and suffering can also be seen in Wolf Whistle’s motif of music—blues music in particular. The blues originated in the southern regions of America. In an interview, Nordan pointed out that the genre was called “race...
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