The Story of Edgar Sawtelle

David Wroblewski


Welcome to the fascinating world of “The Story of Edgar Sawtelle” by David Wroblewski! 📚 This novel, a blend of mystery, drama, and a touch of the supernatural, was first published in 2008 and quickly captured the hearts of readers worldwide. David Wroblewski, an American author, crafted this debut novel with such depth and complexity that it became an instant bestseller and even earned a place as an Oprah’s Book Club selection.

Set in rural Wisconsin, the book revolves around the life of Edgar Sawtelle, a boy born mute, and his unique bond with dogs. Wroblewski’s narrative is richly woven with themes of family, tragedy, and the natural world, offering a modern twist on the classic coming-of-age story. The genre of this novel can be classified as literary fiction, with elements that also appeal to lovers of family sagas and mystery thrillers.

Dive into this beautifully told tale, where each page turn brings you closer to the heart of a very special young man and his journey through both tender and tumultuous times. 🌟

Plot Summary

“The Story of Edgar Sawtelle” unfolds in a narrative that captures the essence of a Shakespearean tragedy, mixed with the unique charm of rural America.

Exposition: The story begins on a farm in Wisconsin, where the Sawtelle family has developed a breed of highly intelligent and trainable dogs. Edgar Sawtelle, born mute, communicates through sign language and forms a profound bond with these dogs, particularly with Almondine, his loyal companion.

Rising Action: The plot thickens when Edgar’s uncle, Claude, reappears and starts to integrate himself into the family and their business. Tension builds as Edgar’s father, Gar, dies under mysterious circumstances, and Edgar suspects Claude’s involvement.

Climax: Overwhelmed by grief and suspicion, Edgar tries to prove Claude’s guilt but his plan backfires, leading to his own accidental killing of a family friend. Fearing the consequences and doubting his own actions, Edgar flees into the wilderness with three of the dogs.

Falling Action: While in exile, Edgar matures and gains survival skills, but his past catches up with him when he decides to return home to confront Claude and protect his canine family.

Resolution: The story reaches its heartbreaking conclusion as Edgar confronts Claude, leading to a series of tragic events. Edgar, in a final attempt to secure the safety of the dogs, dies, leaving the future of the Sawtelle dogs uncertain, but with the hope that they will carry on his legacy.

This sweeping narrative is not just a story of a boy and his dogs, but also a tale of power, betrayal, and the quest for justice, all set against the bucolic backdrop of the American Midwest.

Character Analysis

In “The Story of Edgar Sawtelle,” the characters are richly developed, each with their own motives, growth, and complexities.

  • Edgar Sawtelle — The protagonist, born mute, communicates through sign language. Edgar is deeply connected to the dogs his family breeds, showing remarkable empathy and understanding towards them. His journey is one of self-discovery, resilience, and the pursuit of justice, culminating in a tragic but heroic end.
  • Gar Sawtelle — Edgar’s father, a kind and compassionate man, devoted to his family and the breeding of their unique dogs. His death early in the novel sets the stage for the subsequent conflict and tragedy.
  • Trudy Sawtelle — Edgar’s mother, who is strong-willed and loving. After her husband’s death, she struggles with her grief and the complexities of running the farm and dealing with Claude, her deceased husband’s brother.
  • Claude Sawtelle — The antagonist, Claude is Gar’s brother, whose return to the farm brings tension and conflict. His motives are driven by greed and a desire for control, leading to his central role in the novel’s tragic events.
  • Almondine — Edgar’s loyal dog, more than a pet, she is his confidant and companion. Her presence in the novel emphasizes the deep bond between Edgar and the Sawtelle dogs.

Here’s a summary table of the main characters:

Edgar SawtelleEmpathetic, resourceful, determinedTo find truth and justice for his father’s deathGrows from an innocent boy to a complex character facing moral dilemmas
Gar SawtelleKind, compassionate, dedicatedTo breed a unique line of dogs and nurture his familyHis death catalyzes the main conflict of the story
Trudy SawtelleStrong, nurturing, conflictedTo maintain the farm and protect EdgarStruggles with loss and the intrusion of Claude, gaining strength over time
Claude SawtelleManipulative, secretive, ambitiousTo gain control over the Sawtelle farm and legacyBecomes increasingly antagonistic, driving the story’s conflict
AlmondineLoyal, intuitive, protectiveTo be Edgar’s guardian and friendSymbolizes unspoken love and loyalty, her perspective enriches the narrative

These characters are not just individuals but also represent larger themes in the novel, such as loyalty, betrayal, and the quest for identity and purpose.

Themes and Symbols

“The Story of Edgar Sawtelle” is rich with themes and symbols that weave through the narrative, adding depth and meaning to the story.

Communication and Silence — The theme of communication is central, especially through Edgar’s muteness. His inability to speak leads to unique forms of interaction, particularly with the dogs. Silence in the novel often speaks louder than words, conveying truths and emotions in profound ways.

Nature vs. Nurture — The novel explores the influence of genetics and environment, particularly through the breeding of the Sawtelle dogs. This theme extends to the characters, questioning how much of who they are is inherited versus shaped by their surroundings.

Fate and Free Will — Edgar’s journey questions the roles of destiny and choice. His fate seems intertwined with the legacy of the Sawtelle dogs and the family’s past, yet his actions also reflect personal choice and agency.

Betrayal and Loyalty — Betrayal is a driving force in the plot, especially with Claude’s deceitful nature. In contrast, loyalty, particularly seen in the bond between Edgar and his dogs, underpins the novel’s emotional core.

Legacy and Inheritance — The novel contemplates what is passed down through generations, not only in terms of genetics but also values, knowledge, and burdens.

In terms of symbols:

The Sawtelle Dogs — Symbolize purity, loyalty, and the result of careful nurturing, reflecting the novel’s broader themes of nature versus nurture.

The Farm — Represents a microcosmic world with its own rules and realities, echoing the larger questions of control and freedom.

The Storms — Often symbolic of internal turmoil and the chaos that precedes change, storms in the novel mirror the characters’ struggles and transformations.

The Wilderness — Where Edgar flees to, symbolizes both literal and metaphorical journeys into the unknown, challenging him to survive and grow beyond his past.

These themes and symbols are intricately layered, making “The Story of Edgar Sawtelle” a compelling and thought-provoking read that resonates with readers long after they turn the last page.

Style and Tone

“The Story of Edgar Sawtelle” by David Wroblewski is marked by a distinctive writing style and tone that deeply influence the novel’s atmosphere and reader experience.

Descriptive and Atmospheric — Wroblewski’s prose is richly descriptive, painting vivid scenes of the rural Wisconsin setting. This detail-oriented style immerses the reader in the world of the Sawtelle farm and the natural landscapes that play a crucial role in the narrative.

Melancholic and Reflective — The tone of the novel often carries a sense of melancholy and introspection, reflecting Edgar’s internal journey and the broader themes of loss and legacy. This contemplative mood is punctuated by moments of tension and suspense, especially in the unfolding mystery of Gar Sawtelle’s death.

Symbolic and Layered — The narrative is replete with symbolism and thematic layers, inviting readers to delve deeper into the story’s meanings and connections. This complexity enriches the reading experience, offering new insights with each chapter.

Lyrical and Fluid — Despite the narrative’s complexity, Wroblewski’s language flows with a lyrical quality, making the story accessible and engaging. This fluidity helps to balance the detailed descriptions and the thematic depth of the book.

The style and tone of “The Story of Edgar Sawtelle” are integral to its storytelling, crafting an atmosphere that is both haunting and beautiful. They serve to draw the reader not only into the plot but also into the emotional landscapes of the characters, creating a memorable and impactful reading experience.

Literary Devices Used in The Story of Edgar Sawtelle

1. Foreshadowing

Wroblewski uses foreshadowing to hint at future events, creating an atmosphere of suspense and anticipation. For example, early mentions of unrest in the dog kennel suggest later turmoil within the Sawtelle family.

2. Symbolism

The novel is rich in symbols, such as the Sawtelle dogs representing loyalty and the storms mirroring internal and external conflict. These symbols deepen the narrative’s thematic resonance.

3. Motif

Recurring elements, like the presence of nature and the concept of communication, serve as motifs that enhance the novel’s thematic depth and character development.

4. Imagery

Vivid imagery is used to paint detailed pictures of the setting and characters’ experiences, immersing readers in the sensory world of the novel.

5. Metaphor

Wroblewski employs metaphors to draw parallels between characters and themes, such as comparing the wilderness Edgar retreats to with his own internal journey.

6. Personification

The dogs, especially Almondine, are often personified, attributing them with human-like emotions and roles, which emphasizes their significance to Edgar and the novel’s emotional impact.

7. Irony

The novel contains instances of irony, particularly in the disparity between characters’ perceptions and the reader’s understanding, enriching the narrative with complexity and depth.

8. Flashback

Through flashbacks, the backstory of Edgar’s family and the farm’s history is revealed, providing context and depth to the current events in the story.

9. Conflict

Internal and external conflicts are central to driving the novel’s plot and character development, such as Edgar’s struggle with his disability and his confrontation with Claude.

10. Allusion

The novel alludes to Shakespeare’s “Hamlet,” drawing parallels between the characters and plot elements, which adds a layer of literary depth and intertextuality to the story.

These literary devices are skillfully woven into the fabric of “The Story of Edgar Sawtelle,” enriching the narrative and enhancing the reader’s engagement with the text.

Literary Devices Examples


  1. Example: Early in the novel, the mysterious death of Edgar’s father is subtly hinted at through the uneasy behavior of the dogs.
    • Explanation: This sets the tone for the later revelation of foul play, building suspense and foreshadowing the central mystery.
  2. Example: Edgar’s recurring dreams about his father’s death hint at the truth behind the event before it is fully revealed.
    • Explanation: These dreams prepare the reader for the later uncovering of secrets, indicating that there’s more to Gar’s death than meets the eye.
  3. Example: The description of the storm approaching the farm parallels the impending conflict within the Sawtelle family.
    • Explanation: This natural event foreshadows the turbulent events that will soon shake the family’s foundation.


  1. Example: The Sawtelle dogs, known for their loyalty and intelligence, symbolize the ideal of purity and perfection that Edgar’s family strives for.
    • Explanation: They represent the family’s legacy and the central conflict over the integrity of this legacy.
  2. Example: The farm itself serves as a symbol of the Sawtelle family’s history and the isolation that both protects and confines them.
    • Explanation: It embodies the sanctuary and the prison, reflecting the dual aspects of the family’s life.
  3. Example: The storm acts as a symbol for the internal and external chaos in Edgar’s life and the larger family dynamics.
    • Explanation: It mirrors the tumultuous events and the emotional storms within the characters.

These examples demonstrate how David Wroblewski uses literary devices to add layers of meaning to “The Story of Edgar Sawtelle,” enhancing the storytelling and thematic depth.

The Story of Edgar Sawtelle – FAQs

Q: What is the main theme of “The Story of Edgar Sawtelle”? A: The main theme of the novel revolves around the concepts of communication, silence, and the bond between humans and animals. It also explores themes like family legacy, betrayal, and the journey of self-discovery.

Q: How does Edgar’s muteness affect the storyline? A: Edgar’s muteness adds a unique layer to the story, emphasizing non-verbal communication, especially with the dogs. It highlights his isolation and the special bond he shares with Almondine, and influences the narrative’s exploration of understanding and expression.

Q: Who is the antagonist in the novel, and why? A: Claude Sawtelle is the antagonist. He brings conflict and tension to the story through his manipulative and deceitful actions, which ultimately lead to the novel’s tragic events and his confrontation with Edgar.

Q: What role do the Sawtelle dogs play in the story? A: The Sawtelle dogs are central to the novel, symbolizing purity, loyalty, and the breeding legacy of the Sawtelle family. They are integral to Edgar’s development and are pivotal to the storyline, reflecting the novel’s thematic underpinnings.

Q: How does the setting influence the narrative? A: The rural Wisconsin setting creates a backdrop that is integral to the story, shaping the characters’ lives and the plot’s development. It reflects the isolation, the connection to nature, and the insular world of the Sawtelle family, enhancing the novel’s mood and themes.

These FAQs delve into the core elements of “The Story of Edgar Sawtelle,” offering insight into its complex narrative and thematic structure.


  1. What is the primary setting of “The Story of Edgar Sawtelle”?
    • A) New York City
    • B) Rural Wisconsin
    • C) London
    • D) San Francisco
  2. Who is Edgar’s closest companion among the dogs?
    • A) Tinder
    • B) Baboo
    • C) Almondine
    • D) Essay
  3. What tragic event sets the main plot into motion?
    • A) The disappearance of a dog
    • B) The death of Edgar’s father, Gar
    • C) A fire at the farm
    • D) Edgar’s decision to leave home
  4. How does Edgar communicate with others, given his condition?
    • A) Through written notes
    • B) Using sign language
    • C) Through email
    • D) Using a special communication device
  5. What literary work is “The Story of Edgar Sawtelle” often compared to due to its themes and character relationships?

This quiz is designed to test comprehension of key aspects of “The Story of Edgar Sawtelle,” including its setting, characters, and significant plot events.


Identify the literary devices used in the following paragraph from “The Story of Edgar Sawtelle”:

“Under the canopy of oak leaves, Edgar felt a stirring of something ancient, as if the woods whispered secrets meant only for him. The dogs, silent companions in the moonlit night, seemed to understand the unspoken language of the forest. In the distance, a lone wolf howled, its mournful cry echoing through the valley, tying the present moment to the timeless tales of the land.”


  1. Imagery – “Under the canopy of oak leaves,” “the moonlit night,” and “a lone wolf howled, its mournful cry echoing through the valley” create vivid sensory experiences for the reader.
  2. Personification – The woods are described as whispering secrets and the dogs seem to understand the unspoken language, attributing human characteristics to non-human entities.
  3. Symbolism – The lone wolf’s howl symbolizes the wild, untamed nature and perhaps the looming sense of destiny or connection to the broader, wilder world.
  4. Allusion – The reference to “timeless tales of the land” hints at a larger narrative or historical context, suggesting stories and legends that have permeated the setting.

This exercise helps in understanding the use of literary devices to enhance the narrative and thematic depth of “The Story of Edgar Sawtelle.”