Wringer Summary

Jerry Spinelli


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Wringer Summary

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Wringer, by Jerry Spinelli, is a novel about Palmer LaRue, a boy living in the small town of Waymer, where the annual festival known as Family Fest is held. The big event at Family Fest is a pigeon shoot. Five thousand pigeons are shot each year for fundraising. The proceeds go toward caring for the park in Waymer. When pigeons are wounded but not killed by the event, the boys who wring their necks are called “wringers,” hence the title of the book. At the age of four, Palmer bears witness to this event at Family Fest for the first time and is haunted for years by the memory of the captive pigeons being killed by gunshots or boys sent in to wring their necks.

In Waymer, the citizens consider it an honor for a young boy to become a wringer by his tenth birthday. For Palmer, his tenth birthday is a day of dread because he does not want to kill the injured birds. This is not his only difficulty; a sensitive child, Palmer has always had a hard time making friends, but when he is nine years old, three local bullies, named Beans, Mutto, and Henry, become his friends. Palmer begins to feel that he is accepted by his peers. Until befriending those three, his only friend was a girl named Dorothy. She and Palmer are neighbors.

Unfortunately, the more he hangs out with the bullies, the more he starts to emulate their behaviors. He hurts Dorothy’s feelings and their friendship is marred. One day, during a snowstorm, a pigeon shows up at Palmer’s window. He keeps the bird in his room and considers it his friend; he names it Nipper. Palmer has to keep the pigeon a secret from everyone else in town, even his mother. He tells her that he will clean his room so that she will not discover Nipper’s presence.

Palmer’s secret is not safe for long, though, when Nipper lands on his head while he is walking with the bullies. They put two and two together and determine that Palmer has been hiding Nipper in his room. Palmer worries that they will hurt Nipper, so he goes to Dorothy. Despite their distance lately, she empathizes with him and his concerns over being forced to become a wringer. Palmer gives Nipper to Dorothy when Beans, Mutto, and Henry become too much of a threat. Dorothy plans to set Nipper free when she goes on vacation with her family at the seaside.

Despite the fact that he is glad Nipper got away from the bullies, Palmer misses him. He becomes depressed; his mood sinks even lower when he realizes that the pigeon shoot is coming up. Because Dorothy knows how uneasy it makes Palmer, she finds him during the event, but when she reveals where she released Nipper, Palmer becomes upset. As it turns out, the railroad yard where she set the bird free is where the birds are collected for the pigeon shoot. Palmer realizes that Nipper has been captured for the event. Thankfully, Nipper recognizes Palmer and the boy are able to save the bird despite the bullies’ best efforts to ensure that Nipper is shot. He takes him home again at the end of the story.

Peer pressure is an important theme in Wringer. As the force behind the main conflict for Palmer, this theme is a powerful one that drives his decision to accept the friendships of the bullies and abandon Dorothy’s companionship. Peer pressure forces Palmer to succumb to “The Treatment,” a hazing ritual the boys undergo on their birthdays. Peer pressure causes Palmer to act excited about possibly being chosen as a wringer, even though he loathes and fears such an assignment. Peer pressure makes him worry about disappointing the bullies and his father, who is lauded as a skilled shooter during the pigeon shoot.

Self-knowledge is another important theme in Wringer. Palmer’s awareness that he is disturbed by the pigeon shoot drives his desire not to participate. This is in direct conflict with the pressure exerted by his peers, which creates tension in the novel. Ultimately, Palmer forsakes the friendships of the bullies and returns to Dorothy’s friendship, showing that he knows himself. Unlike his peers, Palmer, who spent time alone when he was small, was able to lead an introspective childhood. Palmer resolves the main conflict of the story by using his self-knowledge to push back against peer pressure.

A third theme is selfless love. Palmer receives unconditional love from his parents, which helps him resist peer pressure, along with his self-knowledge. Palmer learns that his parents knew about Nipper, but kept the bird a secret to support Palmer. The security that their love provides eventually gives him the courage to follow his own ethical and moral compass.