“The Whistle” Summary: Eudora Welty Short Story Plot Synopsis

“The Whistle” is a short story by Eudora Welty that appeared in her 1941 collection A Curtain of Green. It’s about an older married couple struggling to get by as sharecroppers. Here’s a summary of “The Whistle”.

“The Whistle” Summary

Night falls and the moon rises. Its light shines on everything, including the dark shape of the farmhouse where the lamp has just been put out. In neat rows next to the house, are tiny, fragile tomato plants.

Inside, Jason and Sara Morton are in bed, between the quilts of a pallet made up close to the fire, which still flutters. Jason is asleep and his tired breathing can be heard. Sara lies awake on her back. She pulls the covers over her head. It’s cold every night.

They’re fifty years old. They don’t communicate much, sometimes going weeks without saying anything, probably caused by their fatigue and poverty.

Sara is very thin. She’s tired of the cold and always thinks she’ll die before the season ends. It’s spring, but like every year, there’s a cold snap after the planting.

Sara thinks of the summer in Dexter, in the shipping season. Farmers bring in their wagonloads of tomatoes. The packers work while music plays from a café. Men drink and occasionally a shot is heard. People talk and laugh. Mr. Perkins, the owner of their farm, stands in the middle of everything, buying the incoming loads and directing the operation. Jason and Sara hand over their load, watch it get processed and shake hands with Perkins.

She imagines these things only in snippets; the cold occupies most of her attention. The fire has gone out, Sara falls asleep.

The Whistle Eudora Welty Summary short story Plot Synopsis
“The Whistle” Summary

It keeps getting colder. Mr. Perkins’ whistle, as it’s known, starts blaring continuously. This is a large whistle in Dexter that sounds in warning of a freeze. Lights come on in the farmhouses, as people prepare to run out into their fields and cover their plants with whatever they have.

Jason continues to sleep. Sara wakes and lies still a moment in the illusion of warmth. She grabs him by the shoulders and shakes him awake with much effort. They say nothing. They get out of bed, already dressed, and put on their shoes. Jason lights the lantern while Sara gathers the bedclothes.

They walk the frozen ground to the plants. They’re near freezing. They spread the quilts over them. Jason has to use his coat and Sara has to use her dress to finish covering the rest.

They go back to the house where it’s hardly warmer than outside. In their haste, they left the door open. They sit down.

Jason does an unusual thing. He lights a fire with some kerosene and kindling. They sit by it together until it burns down. Jason gets another load of wood, which should be saved, and burns it too while they sit silently.

The wood is all gone. Jason breaks a chair up and burns it as well. Sara says nothing. He does the same to their kitchen table, which they’ve had thirty years.

Afterward, it’s colder than ever as they sit in the darkness. Overcome with helplessness, Sara starts to speak, but Jason silences her. As if they had anything else to give, the whistle continues to blow.

I hope this summary of “The Whistle” by Eudora Welty was helpful.