What do the characters in Whirligig have in common with Brent?
Throughout his journey, Brent meets a variety of people who he connects with. When Brent meets Emil, Brent imagines him as some sort of smarter, better version of himself, since they look similar to each other. Brent is in awe of him and admires him, and wants to better himself and gain more knowledge. Emil is an impetus for Brent to better himself.
Another character that Brent strongly connects with is the painter he meets in Maine. She connects with him as an artist, and he feels comfortable and inspired in her company. He trusts her enough to tell her a full confession of killing Lea in the accident, and she grants him forgiveness. It is a catharsis, and Brent is on the road to forgiving himself.
Along the way, Brent also meets other travelers and locals that he connects with in small ways. In Florida, he meets a group of children who he teaches about building whirligigs and who in turn teach him about the shells and animals on their beach. He also meets a camper in Oregon who makes him interested in learning about the stars and increasing his personal education about the world.
Then there are the characters that Brent never actually meets in person, but who are in some way touched by the whirligigs that Brent puts up to honor Lea. Each person who sees the whirligigs are impacted in some way by their message, whether it be the man who realizes that people need family or the child and his mother who learn that rest and balance are essential in life. Brent connects with others that he is not even aware that he has touched with the whirligigs.