E.B. White

The Trumpet of the Swan

  • 42-page comprehensive study guide
  • Features 21 chapter summaries and 5 sections of expert analysis
  • Written by a literary scholar with a Master's degree
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The Trumpet of the Swan Summary & Study Guide

SuperSummary, a modern alternative to SparkNotes and CliffsNotes, offers high-quality study guides for challenging works of literature. This 42-page guide for “The Trumpet of the Swan” by E.B. White includes detailed chapter summaries and analysis covering 21 chapters, as well as several more in-depth sections of expert-written literary analysis. Featured content includes commentary on major characters, 25 important quotes, essay topics, and key themes like The Journey to Adulthood and Social Systems.

E.B. White’s novel Trumpet of the Swan was published in 1970 and is the third and last of his works written for children. Considered a literary classic, this fantasy novel features an anthropomorphized Trumpeter Swan with a speech defect who learns to play a trumpet and develops friendships with humans while wooing the swan he loves. In 2001, the book was adapted into an animated film.

The Trumpet of the Swan is a bildungsroman. A voiceless swan, initially isolated from his community by his disability, successfully passes through milestones (childhood, young adulthood, marriage, and fatherhood) wherein he develops his natural talents and internalizes human and swan social norms. By the end of White’s novel, Louis has learned to capitalize on his uniqueness by transferring the success and rewards he has found with humans into recognition and integration into swan society.

Plot Summary

At the start of spring, somewhere in the western Canadian wilderness, a pair of Trumpeter Swans prepares to build their summer nesting spot on a little island on the Red Rock Lakes. After the cygnets are born, their mother senses that the cygnet named Louis has no voice. Both of his parents express concern over Louis’s future ability to find a mate without a swan mating call. Louis’s father speaks to him privately and vows to help his son find a way to talk. However, neither of his parents can help Louis resolve his speech disability.

Louis is able to communicate his needs to young Sam Beaver, a human boy on an annual camping trip to the swans’ lakes. Sam brings Louis to school with him, where Louis becomes literate and begins to gain a greater awareness of the wider human world.

Unfortunately, when Louis returns to the Lakes, he realizes that, despite all his efforts, he still cannot communicate because the other swans cannot read. Louis falls in love with a swan named Serena, yet due to his inability to speak, he is unable to catch her attention. Even after Louis’s father steals a trumpet for his son, Serena ignores Louis’s attempts to court her and instead flies north with the other young swans.

Louis puts off winning Serena’s affection to pay off his father’s debt to the music store. At Sam’s suggestion, Louis gets a job as a bugler at Camp Kookooskoos. He learns more about music through books and the songs he hears at camp, and he also composes his own song to Serena. At the end of the summer, to further develop as a musician, he cuts the webbing on his foot so that he can press the valves of his trumpet.

In nightclubs and parks in Boston and in the Philadelphia Zoo, Louis establishes himself as a young, gifted, professional musician and receives critical acclaim for his performances. Louis independently negotiates his salary and the terms of his work arrangements. By the end of his Philadelphia engagement, Louis has earned enough money to pay off the trumpet, so he no longer needs to work.

Serena arrives at the Philadelphia Zoo, and Louis tries to win her affection. With his hard won mastery of the trumpet, Louis enchants Serena with a rendition of “Beautiful Dreamer.” At last, she notices him and is deeply impressed by his musical talent, good looks, wealth, and style. However, Serena is in danger—the zookeeper would like to trim her flight feathers to keep her in the Philadelphia Zoo. Through skillful negotiation, Louis wins her freedom in exchange for annual visits and a few fostered cygnets.

Louis and Serena fly back to Red Rock Lakes in the wilds of western Canada, where they settle, happily married with children. By the end of the novel, Louis has overcome his disability, made lifelong friendships, paid back his father’s debt, found a wife, and started a family of his own.

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Chapters 1-3