Themes and Characters

(Beacham's Guide to Literature for Young Adults)

Fleischman's ability to create memorable characters is frequently compared to that of the English novelist Charles Dickens. Although short, The Whipping Boy brings a number of such characters to life. Perhaps the most colorful characters are the book's two villains, Hold-Your-Nose Billy and Cutwater. Hold-Your-Nose Billy is as "big and raw as a skinned ox" and is constantly chewing garlic cloves. His partner is small and bony with a nose "like a meat cleaver." They are genuine villains, but their ineptness gives them a comic dimension. They are immensely proud of the unsavory reputations the city's ballad singers have created for them. They are so dense, however, that it is scarcely a challenge for the quick-witted Jemmy to outsmart them. Other comic characters are Prince Horace's tutor, the round-faced Master Peckwit, who balances a pair of small spectacles on his nose; Betsy and her huge dancing bear, Petunia; and Captain Nips, the hot-potato man.

And it was forbidden to spank, thrash, cuff, smack, or whip a prince.
Jemmy and Prince Horace begin as comic characters also, but grow more mature as the story unfolds. Living in the streets and sewers, where he and his father capture rats to sell to owners of rat-fighting dogs, Jemmy is older than his years and has a keen sense of self-reliance. After he is snatched off the streets and forced into service as the young prince's whipping boy, Jemmy is given fine clothes and attends the prince's tutoring sessions, which, unlike the prince, he enjoys. His function as whipping boy is to take the beatings that "Prince Brat" deserves. Jemmy dreams of escaping the castle and resuming his...

(The entire section is 676 words.)