Sweet Whispers, Brother Rush, By Virginia Hamilton Essay, Research Paper
Sweet Whispers, Brother Rush, by Virginia Hamilton, was first published in 1982. The estimated reading level for this book is twelve years old and up. Some of the issues examined in the book, such as child abuse, disease, and drug use, will be better understood by junior high age students. This novel would probably attract more female readers than male. The protagonist is a teenage girl named Tree who lives with her mentally challenged brother, Dab. She is responsible for taking care of herself and Dab. Tree begins to see a ghost who reveals her early childhood to her. Throughout the novel we see Tree’s struggle with what the revelations signify about her life as well as her daily struggle to keep her tiny family—namely herself and her brother—afloat.
SETTING: The story takes place in the late seventies. Tree and Dab live in Detroit. The story takes place mostly in the home, as well as in the places Tree is transported to by Brother Rush. Their home is not described in great detail, with the exception of the little room where Tree sits to draw and where Brother Rush appears. Tree loves the tiny room and while in it she draws pictures of families, of space. The fact that she so treasures this small place of her own is revealing of just how cramped the living space is.
CHARACTERIZATION: The characters are well developed and behave realistically. Rather than tell us what each character is like, Hamilton lets each character reveal itself through his or her actions. For instance, we learn that Tree is protective of her older brother by how carefully she takes care of him—as with helping him with his bath—as well as by the concern she has in cooking their meals. These descriptions also serve to reveal Tree’s taking on of adult roles. Tree’s character is round. She changes as a result of what Brother Rush reveals to her about her past. Her perspective about herself as an African American is also altered through her conversation with Silversmith. Dab is a flat character; he stays the same from beginning to end. M’Vy changes in that she is humanized, particularly in the eyes of Tree. In the beginning of the novel M’Vy is described as an almost mythical, larger than life figure who appears bringing gifts and food, then leaves but whose presence permeates the dwelling despite the brevity of the visits. Other characters include Silversmith and Old Miss Pricherd. Silversmith is a flat character. Old Miss Pricherd changes as a result of being asked to move in with Tree. This change is important as it relates to a major theme in Sweet Whispers, Brother Rush.
THEME: The major theme in SWBR concerns love and acceptance. No one is infallible and in order to love we must accept each other’s deficiencies. M’Vy was unable to accept Dab and this led to the abuse she inflicted on him as a small child. Tree learns the truth about the abuse and must learn to forgive M’Vy in order to continue loving her. Acceptance is also echoed in the conversation she has with Silversmith; Tree must accept and appreciate her skin color in order that she not be self-conscious or ashamed. Old Miss Pricherd is a sneaky, mean-spirited woman at the beginning of the novel, but changes once she is allowed into the family—if only because it means no longer living alone. At the very end of the novel, Tree demonstrates her growth and acceptance of her new life by affectionately approaching the old woman (“Granny Pricherd”).
STYLE: Hamilton’s style is very direct, straightforward. This lends some credibility to the more fantastical aspects of the novel, namely the appearance of Brother Rush. She has her characters speak in colloquial grammar and at times carries that grammar to the narrative. This has the effect of not only drawing the reader in but of immersing the reader in a world that may be very different from her or his own.
POINT OF VIEW: The story is told from Tree’s point of view. This is very effective, as it allows us to see how she feels about her family and her life. One particularly revealing scene is when she hands Miss Pricherd the list of chores. We see Tree’s struggle to demonstrate her maturity and her power. It is thus fitting that we see her world through her eyes, as her emotional growth is the focus of this novel.
PERSONAL RESPONSE: Initially, this novel attracted me because of the presence of the ghost. However, what I ultimately found most intriguing was not Brother’s ghostly visits but rather Tree’s struggle to take care of herself and her brother, her feelings towards her mother, and her attempts to make sense of her life after Dab’s death. In fact, despite the effectiveness of the ghost in revealing Tree’s past to her, I do not like this tactic. The text is very realistic—harsh issues are dealt with honestly—and I found myself being pulled out of the narrative at the mention of the ghost. It simply did not seem to fit.