I really enjoyed reading Barbara Kingsolver’s Flight Behavior. Yes, it was really dense and I think some parts of it could’ve been shortened, but I really liked the critiques on society’s inaction and denial of climate change throughout the book. I also enjoyed the different stories woven in throughout it such as Dellarobia’s infidelity, her feeling trapped in her life, and the overarching theme of the monarch butterflies serving as a warning for climate change.
I think Dellarobia’s infidelity springs from her feeling trapped in her life. Everyday is the same: pinching pennies, changing diapers, lying down next to a husband you’re not in love with, and maybe never were to begin with. Who wouldn’t be miserable? There were several instances in the beginning of the book (and mostly in the beginning, since in the latter she discovers she has more agency than she realized) where Kingsolver explains Della’s feelings of wanting to get out of her life. Dellarobia also had to make a lot of compromises, like going to church when she had little desire to do so. It feels like for the most part, until she actually becomes involved in helping with the butterflies, Della feels that the only way she can escape her life is through cheating, or thinking about cheating. I’m not sure if that’s a fair assessment, because it’s a lot more complex than that, but it’s not until the very end when she sees how happy Ovid is with his wife Juliet that she drops her dreams of being with him and realizes that there are other ways to escape her life than by getting emotionally attached to another man.
I think another component that aids in her feeling trapped is Cub. Even though she bosses him around for a good portion of the book, there are still a lot of gender roles at play. Like when she’s talking to Dovey and saying that Cub wouldn’t want her working because it would be a negative reflection on Cub as her husband and as a man (190). Her having a job really shouldn’t affect Cub’s manhood, but it does, so she feels trapped into continuing on as a stay-at-home mother until Dovey convinces her otherwise. It’s not until she actually obtains a job and is progressing through it that her family starts to respect her, even Hester. And of course, the possibility of splitting up their family, one that she seems to question at times, is another thing that keeps her from leaving in the beginning. It’s obvious that she loves her kids, but love doesn’t always stop you from asking huge ‘what if’ questions about your life.
Then there’s money and the lack of it. When Dellarobia is talking to Ovid about the failing educational system in her town, and the about the irrelevance of college for kids from her town, it’s really disheartening, and I think one of the most important parts of the book. It seemed like upward mobility in the town was severely limited if you weren’t an athlete in school, whom Della notes as having the town in their hands (223). She says to Ovid, “Doctor of all the sciences, Harvard and everything… there’s not room at the top for everybody. Most of us have to walk around in our sleep, accepting our underprivileged condition” (225). The acceptance of this stunts anyone’s agency and it obviously stunts Dellarobia’s until the end when she realizes that it’s not too late for her to go to college and do something else with her life.
And finally, climate change. The book centers around the town’s complacency with some serious warning signs. Of course the butterflies that everyone wants to regard as miracle are abnormal. Then there’s the constant raining and flooding, which throws off their wool production. Still, the people of her town are in active denial and it’s most easily seen through Cub and through Dellarobia as well. Cub dismisses it in a biblical sense, saying that only God can control the climate. Ovid and Della’s conversation steers more in the direction of her just ignoring the signs. She says to him, “They say it’s just just cycles… that it goes through this every so often” (281). The inaction and denial from the people of the town comes from them claiming that there’s no visual evidence. As of yet, these peoples haven’t been tragically affected by climate change, besides the raining, which they choose to see as ‘just a cycle’. Because of this denial, it makes it all too easy for people to say that climate change doesn’t exist. You hear about it on the radio, see it on the news, but if it’s not actively affecting your daily commute to work or school, then it’s easy to act like it’s not that bad. We all do it. The butterflies that are at the crux of the story serve as a warning that something is coming and that things are changing. But throughout the book, there is still denial, because the butterflies are just so beautiful to look at.
In that vein, I think I’m more inclined to agree with George Marshall’s article for the New York Times, “Climate Fiction Will Reinforce Existing Views”. I think that cli-fi can enlighten people in a lot of different ways about climate change as long as it’s not, as Marshall puts it, “and overblown apocalyptic story” that in essence, distances the reader. Kingsolver’s book isn’t over the top and is entirely plausible, making it relatable to a wider audience.
- Kingsolver, Barbara. Flight Behavior: A Novel. New York: Harper, 2012. Print.
- Smith, PD. “Before The Flood.” The Guardian. The Guardian, 16 Jan. 2004. Web. 10 Mar. 2015.