Last Updated on October 26, 2018, by eNotes Editorial. Word Count: 723
“White Angel” is the story of the coming of age of two brothers. The nine-year-old narrator, Robert Morrow, enjoys a close and happy relationship with his sixteen-year-old brother, Carlton. Their parents, both teachers, had several children between Bobby and Carlton, but only these two have survived.
The white angel in the story’s title refers to a monument in the graveyard behind the Morrow’s unpretentious tract home. Bobby and Carlton often enter the cemetery because they have hidden a bottle of whiskey in the veranda of what Bobby calls a “society tomb.” They go there to smoke pot and drink from their stash.
Carlton also drops acid, taking it with his orange juice in the morning as his mother prepares breakfast. He shares his acid, called windowpane, with Bobby, although, ever protective, he limits Bobby to half the dose he himself takes. Thanks to Carlton’s tutelage, Bobby considers himself the most criminally advanced nine-year-old in the fourth grade.
The boys’ mother, suspecting Carlton’s involvement in illicit drugs, is uneasy because police officers drive past their house, stop, make notes, and then go on. She attempts to worm information out of Bobby, but he denies that his brother takes drugs. He walks away from his mother to avoid further confrontation, but she pursues him, demanding that he not walk away from her.
Minutes before, Bobby had come from the cemetery, where he unexpectedly encountered Carlton and his girlfriend in the process of losing their virginity. Bobby hovered behind the white angel monument. Carlton saw him there and was startled but eventually winked and continued his impassioned lovemaking.
Both Bobby and Carlton are captivated by the memory of Woodstock, which they have romanticized as only a person who had not attended that historic rock concert could. For them, Woodstock symbolizes freedom—everything to which they aspire and admire. As Bobby evades his mother’s interrogation, walking east in the house, he fantasizes that every step takes him nearer to Yasgur’s farm, where the concert at Woodstock, New York, was staged.
When Carlton returns from the cemetery and from his first sexual encounter, he rejoices that his brother was indirectly involved in this landmark event in his life, declaring that Frisco, as he calls him, is now a man. Elated by his conquest, Carlton suggests that he will find his brother a girl because, at nine, Frisco has been a virgin too long. Carlton’s shoes are covered with mud that he tracks through the house, provoking his mother. She is unforgiving about his dirtying her house.
The father, however, is more detached. He labors away in the basement assembling a grandfather clock from a kit he bought so that he can pass an heirloom on to his children. He takes Carlton’s breach of cleanliness calmly, suggesting only that Carlton clean up the mess he has made, thereby minimizing the problem.
All of this is a prelude to the story’s central event: Carlton’s accidental death. The Morrows are holding their annual party to celebrate the return of the sun after a long, dark winter. The party is a staid affair attended by their teacher friends. The boys help serve the drinks. The tone of the party changes this year, however, when some of Carlton’s friends crash the party and add life to it. Soon everyone is mellow. Teenage boys dance with aging female teachers. Everyone imbibes liberally.
One adolescent boy, Fred, thinks he sees an unidentified flying object (UFO) in the yard. The guests flock into the yard but conclude that the object can be explained and is not a UFO. They return to the house, whereupon Carlton, quite high, returns to the yard. He crosses into the cemetery, then returns and heads toward the house. Not realizing that the sliding glass door is closed, he walks through it, sending jagged glass in every direction. A shard lodges in his throat and pierces his jugular, causing him to bleed to death before medical help arrives.
As the story ends, Bobby is now his parents’ only child. The mother is grief-stricken to the point of being inconsolable. She and her husband occupy separate bedrooms. Carlton’s girlfriend, after numerous psychiatric sessions, moves to Denver with her family. Following the accident, Bobby cannot bear to look her in the face.