Study Guide

Sweet Whispers, Brother Rush

by Virginia Hamilton

Sweet Whispers, Brother Rush Summary

Summary (Literary Essentials: African American Literature)

Sweet Whispers, Brother Rush is a ghost story with a purpose. Through the supernatural intervention of Brother Rush, Tree Pratt comes to understand something of her family’s past, which helps her to deal with her present problems and work out the identity that she will carry into a hopefully happier future.

Tree is fourteen and has just “begun growing into a woman,” which is why the “street dudes” she passes on her way home from school have started to notice her. Tree is no typical teenage girl; in some ways, she is the mother of the family, at least to her seventeen-year-old brother Dab, who is mentally disabled and cannot set the table without frustration. Tree lives an isolated, friendless life of school and Dab, and has for some time. Tree has such a life and such enormous responsibilities because her mother, Muh Vy, is a practical nurse who must live at her jobs, at least during the week.

The novel opens not with any of Tree’s family problems in the present but with her discovery of Muh Vy’s brother’s ghost. One Friday afternoon after school, in the little room where she often goes to draw, Tree sees him. “Brother was in the middle of the table. Not standing on the top of it in the middle, but through the middle.” Brother Rush holds “an oval space shaped like a mirror,” and Tree is able to enter this “shining space” into her own past. At first she does not realize it is her past. She becomes her own mother a decade earlier—when Muh Vy was younger and had two small children—and she experiences Muh Vy’s rural Ohio world through her mother’s eyes. On this and subsequent trips with Brother Rush, Tree will witness his death and see her mother beat Dab. Tree learns her family history—and its tragedies.

The present, however, is as insistent...

(The entire section is 743 words.)

Sweet Whispers, Brother Rush Summary (Masterpieces of American Fiction)

Sweet Whispers, Brother Rush is the story of a black girl in her early teens who must deal with poverty, isolation, overhwhelming responsibility, disillusionment, and loss. That she survives and finally triumphs is the result of her own strength and, as she finally realizes, her mother’s never-failing love for her.

Sweet Whispers, Brother Rush is divided into seventeen chapters. Although the novel is written in the third person, the voice throughout is that of the protagonist, Teresa Pratt. Sometimes she is identified as the narrator; often, however, the author presents Tree’s thoughts in the first person or in fragmentary form. The matter of voice becomes particularly complex when, through the magic of the ghost Brother Rush, Tree travels into the past. Then she speaks and thinks as her own mother, a woman with two children, Tree and Dab, while at the same time never forgetting that she is really Tree, the fourteen-year-old observer. Though such segments demand close attention from the reader, they are essential to the plot; through these ventures into the past, Tree is led to important truths.

The book begins with Tree’s falling in love at first sight with a well-dressed stranger she sees while she is walking home from school. Tree’s life is not easy. She lives alone in a small apartment with her older brother Dabney, who is “slow” and often ill. Their mother Viola sometimes does not see her offspring for weeks at a time. Tree does not even know how to contact “Muh Vy” in case of an emergency, but has to hope that she will turn up when there is no food or money left. So far, Muh...

(The entire section is 669 words.)

Sweet Whispers, Brother Rush Overview

Both "family unity" and "the influence of our past heritage on the present" are interwoven throughout the novel Sweet Whispers, Brother...

(The entire section is 309 words.)