Flight Behavior is a novel that takes its time, perhaps too much so. It has a lot going on under its surface story about migrating butterflies. It touches on themes of personal growth, relationships, media, social class, and climate change denial. While the novel smartly takes its time in developing each relationship in the story, I feel the focus on the interpersonal relationships in Dellarobia’s life is to the detriment of the overall climate message that Kingsolver hoped to convey.
The novel, while technically “about” the migration of monarch butterflies, which migrate to Tennessee instead of Mexico due to climate change, centers on Dellarobia’s relationships with her family and friends. Specifically, the book focuses on the state of her marriage. Over the course of the novel, Dellarobia finds herself drawn away from her husband, Cub, through a discovery of her own intelligence and potential, as well as her growing attraction to other men such as her telephone guy and Ovid Byron, the climate scientist. Her relationships with these people, as well as those with the rest of her family and friends, help humanize the character and the novel itself. However, the novel takes its time doing so, and one can argue that it takes too much time. At times, the books drags on with scenes of pointless conversations and pages filled with unnecessary descriptions of nature.
The novel also presents an interesting class conflict, which I felt distracted from the climate change message initially, but ended up enhancing it through its portrayal of climate denial. I found the descriptions of class to be the strongest parts of the book. The comparisons drawn between the lives of Dellarobia and her neighbors, and the visiting climate scientists and tourists, are quite stunning. My favorite scene in the book took place when one of the climate scientists attempted to lecture Dellarobia about her carbon emissions and made the mistake of asking her to fly less and to bring Tupperware to restaurants for take out. Poor Dellarobia had never flown, and hadn’t eaten at a restaurant for two years. The climate scientists are also shocked at her lack of a college education and her sparse knowledge of mathematics. The class struggle works both ways, however. Dellarobia briefly describes Cub’s fascination with a TV show that is not named, but can only be The Big Bang Theory. He laughs at what he perceives to be rich nerds failing completely at social interaction. Dellarobia takes note of their expensive looking possessions and thinks he ought not to judge. These differences highlight the class divisions present in the novel and uncover instances of privilege, which is an extremely interesting topic. Here, however, the differences are used to display ignorance to the problem of climate change. The less educated and the religious seem to both be lower class, and also more frequent deniers of climate change. While these people are not the real problems, as their lifestyles do not significantly increase carbon emissions, they are also the people that vote those that deny climate change into office. Bear talks about his staunch support of cutting taxes for the 1%, which, as we know, perpetuates the big businesses that contribute to emissions. Also, the religious such as Hester see the butterflies as simply beautiful, and refuse to believe that anything sinister is going on. Hester believes that God sent them, and condemns Dellarobia’s protests that the butterflies are an indication of a deeper problem.
The novel has something very interesting to say about media and climate change that I believe is very relevant to our society’s current situation. In the novel, the poorly educated townpeople of Dellarobia’s Tennessee home are hesitant to accept that climate change is the cause of the migration, and the presence of the butterflies is not a gift. In addition, media outlets twist the story to focus on Dellarobia’s human-interest story, rather than the importance of the butterflies’ migration habits. When Ovid is interviewed and asked a question about climate changed, the interviewer leads him to answer as she wants, and when he is honest, she declares that she cannot air the footage. Luckily, Dovey catches it all on her phone, and the video goes viral.
This portrayal of the media is unfortunately accurate. A whole industry exists behind the denial of climate change, sowing doubt into the minds of the people so that the common man will not bother with the issue and companies will be left alone to poison the earth. One example is a pamphlet passed out by an electric company, claiming that global warming was caused by the sun and not carbon dioxide. “Despite every major science academy in the world disagreeing with them, the pamphlet claimed the role of carbon dioxide was minor.” (A) Florida, a state in which rising waters could have a devastating effect, has banned officials of its Department of Environmental Protection from using the phrase “climate change.” (B) These developments are deeply troubling and show the extent to which companies will go to prevent the loss of profits, to the detriment of the rest of the planet.
Fortunately, there is a thriving activist movement working against climate change. While change on a large scale is the only thing that will save the earth, there are many groups working to change public opinion into one of consensus that climate change is happening. The novel portrays this group in the form of the protesters who picket the logging of the area where the butterflies reside, and the knitters who send Dellarobia knitwear for the butterflies. While these methods might not do much in the short term, they are indicative of a public interest in the subject, which can only help. Dovey’s video of Ovid’s interview goes viral, which exposes the censorship of the media and displays his true scientific explanations of the situation. The Internet is a huge asset to the activist movement. Websites such as 350.org (C), also mentioned in the novel, help to organize people and to change minds.
Overall, I thought that this novel displayed some good themes about climate change and class that were provocative and had the potential to start interesting discussions. However, I felt as though the book was bogged down by excessive focus on interpersonal relationships and descriptions of nature. I enjoyed the book fine as it was, but I feel as though many people whose minds are not already made up about climate change would not find this book very appealing to read.
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.
I had fun reading Flight Behavior, trying to decide which of the several subplots was going to become the main story. There’s a lot going on. The narrative follows Dellarobia Turnbow, an orphan, mother, and housewife, whose possibilities are much bigger than the small rural Tennessee town, stale marriage, and “hand-me-down life” she is living. She deals with annoying neighbors, a weird plague of butterflies, a hands-on introduction to science, attempted adultery, a yawning husband and inscrutable in-laws, the memory of a miscarriage, and the big-time worries that come with a dawning understanding of the perils of climate change. There is a wacky friend, too, and even sheep. It’s got everything.
Climate change is a noteworthy antagonist in the story, but the juiciest conflicts are definitely between the characters. Flight Behavior feels like a book about real, vulnerable people. And although the narrative point of view is limited to Dellarobia, Dellarobia understands how people like her husband and her neighbors think. That is, people like farmers who’ve never had much need to think about things outside their farm work, who were never allowed decent educations, who listen to conservative talk radio, and who honestly cannot believe in the fact of global warming. She relays this point of view vividly to the reader, with a sad sympathy that is striking.
Barbara Kingsolver’s writing style is ever-surprisingly fluid, flowing from subject to subject as Dellarobia daydreams or interprets. There are many standout passages. “She couldn’t see these things at all, stricken forests of killing tides. What she saw was the boy inside a man who was losing everything” (281). “She could see that his old generosity was still there, but was sometimes being held captive by despair, like a living thing held underwater” (239). “Men and barns are like a bucket of forks. Neatness is no part of the equation.” Delightful!
One portentous theme is the disconnection that people feel from one another. The disconnection between Dellarobia and Leighton Akins (the guy with the “Sustainability Pledge” pamphlets at the monarch roosting site), for example, is a funny one. As if she needs to pledge to be thrifty! And he has no idea what was so funny about it.
The picketers from the community college, too, don’t know the half of Bear’s motivation for considering a logging contract. They seem to think he’s evil, but really, he’s not hell-bent on butterfly blood. He’s desperate for money, about to lose his house to a long run of bad luck and bad weather.
Dellarobia and Cub’s marriage lacks any meaningful communication at all, and Dellarobia’s relationship with her mother-in-law Hester is like a sustained uncomfortable pose.
Even the perceptive and personable Ovid Byron “would have no inkling of the great slog of effort that tied up people like [Dellarobia] in the day-to-day.”
And finally, there are some people to whom the idea of climate change will be forever inconceivable. But to follow Dellarobia’s example, we should still seek hope, even as the sea levels rise, the weather goes haywire, and the epic extinction begins.
Kingsolver presents a broad and rich array of insights in this book.
If Barbara Kingsolver does one thing right in Flight Behavior, it’s the thing that matters: her handling of the issue of climate change. Kingsolver opts to depict global warming as a slow simmering disaster instead of going over the top and ending the world like a typical disaster movie. This treatment of such a serious issue grants the novel with a certain level of believability and seriousness that could shake even the most uncertain skeptic. The inevitable demise of monarch butterflies may not sound as scary as a giant flood ravaging the continent’s coast, but Kingsolver manages to bring so much emotion into the story of the butterflies that the urgency is felt in such a startling way.
Additionally, Kingsolver brought the interesting issue of faith vs. climate change to the table. This is an issue to which I have not given much thought prior to reading Flight Behavior; however, since I picked up this novel it has been plaguing my thoughts. Since I must be some sort of masochist when it comes to searching things on the internet pertaining to global issues, I decided to plunge deeper into this connection between Christianity and climate change. The results were terrifying. Theologians and preachers, such as Matthew Hagee, tell their followers not to believe in the “phony” climate change as it is “all a part of God’s plan.” This. Is. Scary. When we encourage idleness and inaction, how can we possibly expect results? Now, this tangent may seem entirely irrelevant to Kingsolver; however, these preachers have given me a great deal more respect for Flight Behavior. When I first read some of the dialogue between Cub and Dellarobia, I found it incredulous to think that one’s religion could restrict them for doing some good for the environment, and Cub’s character just felt really fake to me (I suppose I’m just too optimistic sometimes). While Kingsolver never explicitly takes a stance in terms of her views on faith, I have a good feeling she would be just as sickened by Matthew Hagee’s preaching as I am.
Given everything I’ve said so far, it seems like I should be a big fan of this novel, but that’s not the case. My issue isn’t the same as others complaining about a lack of plot or slow pacing. Actually, I take issue with some things that everyone else seems to enjoy. Particularly, the characters. I’m pretty sure it’s fair to say that Kingsolver intended to make Dellarobia, Ovid Byron, and perhaps even Hester to be likeable characters. However, I could not find a single character in this novel in whom I could believe or sympathize. Take Dellarobia for instance- Kingsolver introduces her as a woman on the edge who is having an affair. This Jimmy guy then pretty much disappears, and Dellarobia moves onto the next piece of eye candy in the form of Ovid Byron (naming characters is also not one of Kingsolver’s strong suits…). So I’m supposed to feel for this character who lies to her husband and barely gives a damn about her children? Then there’s Ovid who is supposed to be some sort of benevolent man, yet every word that came out of his mouth felt really pretentious and arrogant. Yet, no one could be as obnoxious as Dovey. She may go down in history as one of the worst supporting characters I have ever read in literature. All she did was make awfully corny jokes and say “remember when..?” to Dellarobia every other sentence. Ugh. Maybe it’s just me, but this novel reads like a cli-fi soap opera.
I want to like Flight Behavior, I really do. I don’t think any other novel dealing with climate change has reached such a wide audience as this novel. And Kingsolver does a fantastic job of presenting climate change in a believable and terrifying way without being heavy-handed. However, I just don’t think she is an author whose works I would voluntarily read in the near future.
I thought that Flight Behavior by Barbra Kingsolver was a very interesting read. Although the pacing was a little slow, I was able to really connect with the characters and their situations, especially Dellarobia.
When the story starts I was honestly kind of bored. Dellarobia’s life is nothing but a constant daily routine of taking care of children, her husband included. She cleans, cooks and follows the orders of her in-laws. She is not one to stand up for herself and the most interesting moments are the moments when she talks of breaking away from it all. As Dellarobia gets more involved with the butterflies and climate change, I found myself more connected and intrigued by her story. Her interest and intensity on the subject is something I can definitely relate to. In the beginning of the book she is just as ignorant to climate change as I was. She goes about her day-to-day life thinking that the weather is just weird, and that it’s just the kind of year they’re having. As she discovers the truth about what is really going on, her passion ignites and she becomes emotionally invested. As I learn more about climate change and the effect it will have on my life, I definitely become more passionate about it.
I think that Kingsolver is successful in representing true reactions to global warming through her characters. Dellarobia represents the type of people who see that there is a problem, hate the fact that it is happening, but in the end feel like they can do little to actually help it. Then you have Ovid Byron who represents those who are extremely passionate about climate change. He obviously represents the scientists who pour their heart and soul into fixing the issue. Then there is pretty much every other character that represents everyone else. These other characters are quick to write it off as the hand of God, like Hester. Or it just doesn’t fit into what they have believed their entire life, like Cub. I think that these characters accurately portray the different attitudes people have on climate change.
The book ends hopeful, which I think is nice, but also kind of gives a false sense of security. Throughout the book the butterflies symbolize climate change and how everything kind of hangs in the balance. In the end the butterflies fly off to a new world and it is this sort of happy ending. I think that this ending is counterproductive to the whole message of global warming. It is sort of saying ‘hey there is global warming and it’s messing things up, but don’t worry because in the end it will all be okay’, which in reality is not the case. I think that if Kingsolver would have ended the story with something a little more drastic, it would have left the reader with a more realistic understanding of what climate change can do.
I liked the book. I didn’t like all the minimal drama between the townspeople. However I understand why Barbara Kingsolver included it, to show that the characters’ personal interests and problems are nothing in comparison to the larger problem of climate change. Entomologist Ovid Byron foreshadowed a natural disaster for me (although expected one because the book was assigned), when he tells Dellarobia that when the ecosystem begins tattering and acting up that unpredictable changes are bound to happen. The flood at the end of the story emphasized that we need to find importance in caring for the environment, because we are going to feel the effects of climate change. Personally I think individuals and society need to find a balance of living wholesome but not over indulging in materials and social standards.
Also I enjoyed how Kingsolver included her religious beliefs, the good and the bad. She showed her frustration with the church and its members and the expectations of it. I liked the name Dellarobia, so I googled it and Luca Della Robbia was an Italian sculptor who graced many cathedrals in Florance with his art. How Dellarobia at first thought the butterflies on the mountainside was a miracle, but slowly combined her faith with science to find balance. Lastly, Kingsolver ended the story with a flood to show a fresh start that Dellarobia desired. I would also like to acknowledge how much I liked Kingsolver’s style in writing. At times I could imagine the image she was presenting, especially when she described the natural environment.
Wow, this is a dense book. Every page has so much to say on it and that both works for and against Flight Behavior by Barbara Kingslover. Sure, this is a book about climate change and the dangers that lie ahead of us, but it’s also a really intimate story of a family, and an even more intimate story of a woman just trying to get a grasp on reality and figure it all out.
The story begins in a very strange way, in the sense that it felt like I was missing out on very important information. What this did, however, was allow me to piece together information as I kept reading. For example, the complications of Dellarobia’s marriage, her miscarriage, and her strange relationship with her mother-in-law, Hester. I didn’t really like thinking about this book as a story and a warning on climate change like some of the others that were read in this class, instead I enjoyed more focusing on the lives of the characters.
There are many times throughout the book where Kingslover pushes the characters forward in situations that feel all too real, but also in clever ways as well. For example, when Cub and Dellarobia go Christmas shopping, different items and areas of the store seem to create another layer in their argument. It’s an intelligent way of writing that unfortunately also goes a little overboard. Dellarobia certainly has a wandering mind, and there are many times where I found myself skimming through paragraphs so I could just get on with the story instead of Dellarobia, more or less speaking for Kingslover, talking on and on about her viewpoint and opinions.
While this book did feel a bit too long and crowded with tangents that went on and on, it was a very memorable story. The characters felt more real and three dimensional than any others that we read about in this class. There’s also a lot of great imagery with the butterflies, but also with much smaller family scenes. It felt like it took me forever to get through Flight Behavior, but it’s a story I won’t soon forget.
I thought Flight Behavior was a really interesting book that succeeded in putting everything into perspective and making me feel like I could get through anything with perseverance and courage. However, there were times where I could feel myself disliking the book and getting really bored. Personally, I’m not a very religious person (not that I’m not religious at all, it’s just—you know what, that’s a whole other debate). Because of this, the times where the characters were discussing religious-like things, such as when they talk about how Dellarobia had a “vision” that led them to discover the butterflies, kind of made me want to throw the book into the snow. People like this who think everything is a vision or some sort of “sign from God”, if you will, irk me. If I could tell the people in this book how many times I’ve seen some butterflies throughout my life, they probably would’ve dedicated an entire religion to me.
Religion aside, I was impressed that they managed to tie climate change into the book (Shout-out to Dan Bloom, who was probably way too happy about this). How they managed to do this was that the characters identified that this was not the butterflies’ normal migration patterns, which was an ominous sign of climate change, as told by a scientist that visits Dellarobia (Ovid Byron). Overall, I thought the story was very sweet. I liked how Dellarobia had that one thing in her life (the butterflies) that reminded her that she could keep on keepin’ on and continue living. I believe everybody should have something like that to remind them that when they’re sad, life always finds a way to get better. I would recommend this book to anyone who enjoys a nice, heartfelt story who also has the ability to overlook really weird character names.