Lewis Nordan: Wolf Whistle
In 1955, a fourteen year old black boy was brutally murdered for allegedly having wolf-whistled at a white woman, Carolyn Bryant. The boy was called Emmett Till, nicknamed Bobo. The two accused were acquitted by an all-white jury but later admitted to having committed the crime. The case has been immortalised in novels, plays, poems and songs, including a famous one by Bob Dylan. This novel is one of the two on the subject.
Nordan’s story of the crime shows that the behaviour of the murderers is to be found throughout the area. He tells the story of Arrow Catcher, Mississippi and its inhabitants. Alice Conroy is a white trash fourth grade teacher. She takes her class to visit Glenn Gregg who is suffering from burns he got trying to kill his father, Solon Gregg. Later she will take them on a field trip to see the murder trial of Glenn’s father and his employer, for murdering Till, for wolf-whistling at a white woman. Bobo – Emmett Till – does appear but primarily through the eyes of others. We see the two murderers. The husband of the woman, whom Till allegedly wolf-whistled, at is keen on revenge, as his wife has been cheating on him and Till is the one who pays the price. His accomplice is Solon Gregg.
Nordan does not pull any punches. The vicious racism and the crass stupidity of the people of the town is brutally and wittily dissected by him. It is not, of course, a fun story but one that the fifteen-year old Nordan saw for himself and carried around with him for the rest of his life and a story he had to tell and he tells it well.
First published 1993 by Algonquin Books