Whirligig Characters
by Paul Fleischman

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Themes and Characters

(Beacham's Guide to Literature for Young Adults)

That actions have consequences is the central theme of Whirligig. This theme is developed over and over as Brent travels to the four corners of the country to fulfill the request of Lea Zamora's mother. Good consequences follow the placement of the whirligigs just as surely as bad consequences follow Brent's reckless driving.

A second theme is isolation. Teens sometimes feel isolated from their peers. It may be for real or imagined reasons. Brent feels isolation because of frequent moves, making him the new kid. He seeks ways to fit in and avoid sticking out. Trying to fit in results in humiliation, something no one wants to experience, especially teens. Brent loses that sense of isolation through his encounters with various travelers and the new ways of thinking he gains from them. He no longer feels the need to be a part of the "in crowd."

The physical journey parallels Brent's inward journey overcoming loss, fear, and guilt, emotions common to all people. Brent braced himself for the loss of freedom in case the judge sentenced him to jail. He feared being different and not fitting in but learned uniqueness is a good quality. He suffered terrible guilt and felt compelled to atone for that guilt. Guilt is an important emotion that teens may experience and not know what to do with the emotion. Brent seeks to salve that guilt through confession, apology, and atonement, a good pattern for others to imitate. Through his travels he finds peace and forgiveness for his actions and learns how to handle the guilt.

Sixteen-year-old Brent Bishop, protagonist, is a junior in high school. He is a self-centered young man who feels isolated from his peers. He is the new kid in class and feels inadequate and inferior. He has learned ways to "fit in." Thinking this time he has the right clothes, the right look, the right house and car, and enough money, he finds that, measured against the kids at Montfort, he is suddenly a lot poorer than before. By the end of Whirligig, the reader sees a different young man, still sixteen, but a lot more likeable.

Parents and high school friends are all very superficial people and work as background characters to the plot, as do several characters Brent meets on his journey around the country.

Individual protagonists in alternating chapters tell their own stories about their encounters with the whirligigs constructed and installed by Brent, good consequences from his actions.