While Sweet Whispers, Brother Rush is an exciting reading experience because of its occult elements and dramatic plot, the backbone of Virginia Hamilton’s novel is its characterization. The protagonists here are three-dimensional with a vengeance: Contrary and contradictory, they act in ways that reveal their true humanity.
Minor characters, understandably, have less depth. Brother Rush only speaks when he appears in the past, but his warmth and pain come through clearly in those trips. Dab is disabled and therefore limited as a character, but Tree’s devotion to her quiet brother is moving. Miss Pricherd is also a minor character, but in the course of the novel she is transformed from an old lady interfering in Tree’s routine into Tree’s means of getting out of her own anger and resentment. Finally, Silversmith is a strong, gentle man whose good qualities come through in a number of ways.
Muh Vy is a unique character in young adult fiction, and Virginia Hamilton presents her in a unique way, warts and all. For one thing, readers see Tree’s mother from several perspectives. She is not merely visible action and dialogue; in the trips Tree takes back into her own past, she becomes her mother, giving readers a double view of Muh Vy’s character.
Muh Vy’s strengths are clear, but it is her imperfections that make her so human. She has abused Dab as a baby, both by hitting him and by tying him to a bedpost to keep him in one place. When confronted by the knowledge Tree has gained through Brother Rush, Muh Vy can admit her mistakes to herself. As she explains to...
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Tree is the narrator, the protagonist, and, finally, the heroine of Sweet Whispers, Brother Rush. Tree voices almost all the opinions in the novel and describes every event from her perspective. Furthermore, Tree has many of the qualities one expects in a heroine. In a difficult situation, she displays intelligence, self-discipline, an admirable sense of responsibility, and a deep, uncomplaining love for both her difficult brother and her absent mother. Yet there is another side to Tree. When the homeless Cenithia Pricherd comes to clean up the apartment, Tree judges her harshly, summing her up as a lazy, greedy old woman. Clearly, in everyone except Dab, Tree expects perfection. Therefore, when she finds out the worst about her mother, she is at first unforgiving. Not until she learns to separate the sinner from the sin, to feel compassion for Muh Vy and for Cenithia, can Tree be considered a true heroine. Of all the characters in the novel, it is Tree who changes most drastically.
The alteration in Viola is less dramatic. While she does what she can to save Dabney, she cannot bring herself to love him. Yet she does love Tree enough to break the habit of a lifetime. When she admits that she abused Dabney and neglected both of her children, Muh Vy for once is facing facts instead of running away from them. She, too, has become a better person.
Unlike Tree and Muh Vy, most of the characters in Sweet Whispers, Brother Rush remain the same...
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Sweet Teresa “Tree” Pratt
Sweet Teresa “Tree” Pratt, a fourteen-year-old black girl responsible for her seventeen-year-old brother, Dab, who is mildly retarded. Because their mother must work away from their home, Tree looks after Dab and herself. Such responsibility has made her very independent, but it also leaves her lonely. When the ghost of Brother Rush suddenly appears and carries her back into the past, Tree learns about her family history and about the sources of the problems that plague the Pratts. By the end, Tree has successfully navigated a set of adolescent rapids, but the trip has not been easy.
Dabney “Dab” Pratt
Dabney “Dab” Pratt, who is mildly retarded and also suffers from porphyria, a rare genetic disorder. Dab is able to attend school and even bring girls home to his room, but they may be interested only in the drugs he uses to ease his pain. The porphyria makes him extremely sensitive to light and to touch, and, by the end of the week in which the novel takes places, the disease kills him.
Viola “Muh Vy” Sweet Rush Pratt
Viola “Muh Vy” Sweet Rush Pratt, Tree and Dab’s mother, a live-in nurse who must be away from home most of the time. As a young mother, Vy experienced a double tragedy: Her three brothers all died of porphyria at an early age, and then her husband, Ken, abandoned the family.
Sylvester Wiley D. Smith (Silversmith)
Sylvester Wiley D. Smith (Silversmith), Muh Vy’s boyfriend, a chauffeur at her present job.
Miss Cenithia Pricherd
Miss Cenithia Pricherd, a sixty-seven-year-old woman who has been living on the streets. Muh Vy hires her to clean.