Themes and Characters

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Last Updated on May 11, 2015, by eNotes Editorial. Word Count: 701

Peer pressure is a major theme found in Wringer . Like all young people, Palmer wants to belong, but he makes a poor choice about the group in which he seeks membership. An only child, Palmer is a compassionate, intelligent, thinking young person with a strong moral compass. He does...

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Peer pressure is a major theme found in Wringer. Like all young people, Palmer wants to belong, but he makes a poor choice about the group in which he seeks membership. An only child, Palmer is a compassionate, intelligent, thinking young person with a strong moral compass. He does well in school, is obedient to the authority of his parents, enjoys a close companionship with his father, and abhors cruelty to others and animals. It is his strong morality that produces the conflict in which Palmer finds himself. He is filled with dread about being a wringer. He doesn't want to be a wringer, but he does want to belong.

Arthur Dodds, better known as Beans, is all the things Palmer is not. With teeth every color of the rainbow because he says he never brushes them, Beans gets his nickname because he loves baked beans and eats them directly from the can. Beans, Mutto, and Henry form a gang whose goals include becoming wringers at age ten, harassing younger kids, and making trouble at school. Beans has no compassion or mercy for anyone who does not share his opinion about pigeons. Mutto and Henry are followers and do Beans's bidding. Palmer's mother forbids their presence in her home after their attendance at Palmer's ninth birthday party. She calls them "hoodlums." It is hard for young people to be different and march to the beat of a different drummer. Palmer isn't like Beans and his gang, but he wants to belong. For Palmer, belonging means denying that part of himself that is gentle and kind.

Friendship is another theme found in Wringer. Dorothy lives across the street from Palmer and has been his friend since they were toddlers. Like Palmer, Dorothy is different, and is determined not to cave in to the harassment she endures from the gang. They dump disgusting stuff on her doorstep, treestump her journey home from school, call her "fish-face" and other awful names, and alienate her from Palmer. Palmer must decide if he is going to deny his friendship with Dorothy because the gang does not like younger kids, especially Dorothy. It is a difficult decision for Palmer, but his desire to be her friend isn't as strong as his desire to belong to the gang, so he turns his back on Dorothy and joins in taunting and harassing her with the gang. When Palmer needs a friend who understands how he feels about Nipper, Dorothy accepts his apology and becomes his ally, although it is a friendship kept in secrecy. Dorothy is a true friend because she is willing to forgive Palmer for everything.

Seeking parental approval is a subtle theme in Wringer. Palmer's loving parents are in the background. Palmer is more like his mother in temperament and personality. His father teaches him how to position the toy metal soldiers that become Palmer's on his ninth birthday. The two of them play with the metal soldiers, and we see Palmer comparing himself to his father, who was a wringer when he was ten. Then in adulthood his father was a sharpshooter at the pigeon shoot, winning the trophy one year. Palmer thinks his father wants him to follow in those same footsteps. This becomes a haunting refrain in Palmer's mind as the year advances toward his tenth birthday, but when Palmer's father tells Beans that Palmer can decide for himself whether or not to be a wringer, Palmer sees something in his father that says he doesn't like destroying pigeons either.

Wringer also is a book about love. In the end Palmer's love for Nipper conquers all his other fears. A near tragedy for Nipper finally convinces Palmer to be himself and refuse to become a wringer.

As Palmer struggles to make sense of his situation, he learns about himself. He grows and changes when he finds himself with the responsibility of another life in his hands. He learns what a friend really is when he receives forgiveness from Dorothy and their friendship is restored. His view of his father matures from that of a young child who adores and believes in his father to one of understanding and respect for who he is.

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