What does the whirligig symbolize in chapter 6, "Bellevue, Washington," in the book "Whirligig?"

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chsmith1957 eNotes educator| Certified Educator

In this chapter, we follow Tony, a fifth-grader with Korean ancestry who lives with an adoptive family. Because of his Asian heritage, his mother insists that he take Suzuki violin lessons. Tony would rather watch baseball or hang out with friends. During the summer, he and his family go camping in Bellevue, north of Seattle. They see the whirligig that Brent installed, which depicts Lea as an angel playing a harp. Tony hates it so much he throws a rock at it, and the rock bounces off the wood. His mother loves the whirligig and takes many pictures of it. She even frames one for inspiration. Tony isn’t inspired, however. When they get back home, he makes many mistakes during a music recital, and is obviously not committed to the instrument. He later complains to his violin teacher about the whirligig photo, and his teacher offers an interpretation. “The harp player plays her harp. Then she rests. Then she plays again,” he says. He understands that Tony needs a break. He recommends to Tony’s mother that the boy take a rest from violin for a time, just like Lea does on the whirligig. Her figure in the wood symbolizes Tony and his own music making.  

rareynolds eNotes educator| Certified Educator

The whirligig comes to symbolize, at first, the constant pressure to succeed that Tony feels from his parents, and then, later, the need for rest. Tony, a Korean boy, feels under tremendous pressure, not only from his parents and teacher to succeed at violin, but tremendous cultural pressure, as an Asian, to be hard-working, polite, and deferential. In this way he resembles Brent; just as Brent was driven by his ambition to be accepted by the popular kids at school, eventually leading to his breakdown and suicide attempt, the pressure Tony is under could also lead him to a similar breakdown—you could think of his disastrous recital as a kind of expression of frustration at this pressure to perform, or as a symptom of approaching mental and emotional exhaustion. Either way, the whirligig he discovers symbolizes his struggle, and permits Tony to "learn" from Brent's experience in that his violin teacher uses the whirligig as a metaphor to explain why taking a break from practice is so important.