Wringer is set in Waymer, a small community of quiet neighborhoods, neat houses, and friendly people. The time is contemporary. Waymer's community spirit is exhibited in the residents' concern for a good park for their children. Each summer a Family Fest raises money to maintain ball fields and playground equipment and purchase new equipment. Spinelli develops a strong contrast to the peaceful park setting with the annual pigeon shoot. Participants pay entry fees. Soccer fields become battlefields with the explosion of guns aimed at defenseless pigeons. The sky is turned gray from the gunfire—"smokesun" as Palmer calls it—the air is filled with the acrid odor of gunpowder, and the field is littered with feathers.
Spinelli's writing accepts young people for what they are. According to Ethel R. Twichell in a Horn Book review of Dump Days, Spinelli "neither judges nor berates but shakes everyone up in his own bag of tricks and watches to see what will spill out."
He develops a strong person-against-self conflict with the opening sentence of the story, "He did not want to be a wringer." This simple statement pulls the reader in at once. Who is he? What is a wringer? Why does he not want to be a wringer? This conflict is supported throughout the story as Palmer inevitably approaches age ten, the age of wringers. From time to time he is able to push the thought from his mind, forgetting it "for minutes, hours, maybe even for a day or two," but it always returns, and it seems there is no one he can talk to about his dread of the role he thinks he is expected to play. It becomes a consuming thing, creating a mood of dread and apprehension.
Older readers will understand Spinelli's use of the albatross motif from Samuel Taylor Coleridge's Rime of the Ancient Mariner. Nipper becomes an intolerable burden for Palmer as he tries to protect the bird and keep it a secret from his parents and the gang.
Spinelli's use of imagery paints vivid pictures for the reader. One example is his description of the pigeon's eye, which he uses throughout the story: "The pigeon's eye is like a polished shirt button.... The pigeon's eye is orange with a smaller black button in the center. It looks up at him. It does not blink.... He opened one eye to find an orange button staring back.... The bird's orange button eye blinked.... Orange eyes flashed in the dark . . . orange eyes dead as buttons." The reader is drawn into Palmer's mind through this effective use of imagery.
(The entire section is 1,322 words.)