Doris Lessing: Flight - study guide
What happens in Flight?
The old man
The author's technique
Studying Flight for English literature
Readers and reading
Studying Flight for English
Subject and implications
Style, structure and narrative craft
Effects of language
Introduction to prose Fiction
Poetry in the Anthology
This guide should help you study Flight. It should be useful to students from all parts of the world, though I have written it specifically to support students in England and Wales preparing for GCSE exams in English and English literature. It may also be helpful to the general reader who is interested in the stories of Doris Lessing. Flight was published in 1957, in a collection of short stories entitled The Habit of Loving. The author, Doris Lessing was born in 1919, in Khermanhah in Persia (now Iran). Her parents were British. At six years old, she moved to Zimbabwe (then Southern Rhodesia), where she attended a girls' school. In 1949, she moved to London, where her first novel, The Grass is Singing, was published in 1950. What happens in Flight?
An old man (unnamed) who keeps pigeons, worries about his granddaughter, Alice. He has seen his other granddaughters leave home, marry and grow up, and he is both possessive of Alice and jealous of Steven, her boyfriend. (He disapproves of Steven's appearance and his father's job.) The old man argues with Alice about her behaviour, and complains to his daughter, Alice's mother (Lucy). At the start of the story the old man shuts up his favourite pigeon, rather than let it fly. But when Steven, the boyfriend, makes him a present of a new pigeon, he is more able to accept what is going to happen, and he lets his favourite go. The ending of the story is ambiguous (it has more than one possible meaning): Alice has tears on her face, as she stares at her grandfather. But we do not know if they are for him, for Steven, for herself or for some other cause. And we do not know if they are tears of joy or sadness or some other feelings. The themes of this story
Is this a story about an old man who receives a present from his granddaughter's boyfriend? In one way, of course it is. But is this all? Or does this outward or surface narrative lead into another? Leaving home and becoming independent are things which most people face sooner or later. They can be alarming, but they are natural and almost inevitable. Sometimes this kind of story is described in the phrase “rites of passage” - which fits narratives about growing up, moving on and life-changes. This should make it a very suitable story for young people preparing for exams: Alice's situation will be one that you face now or will face soon. How do you feel about this prospect? Is it scary, or exciting or both? The characters in the story
This is a very short story, so it does not have fully developed characters as we might meet in a novel or one of Shakespeare's plays. Doris Lessing tells us only what we need to know (and perhaps misses lots of things we might like to know). So who are these characters? The old man
The central character in the story has no name. Why might this be? Does it make him seem less of an individual, or perhaps make him seem more universal, like someone we might know? Or can you think of any other reason for his not being named? We know that he is Alice's grandfather, and that he feels possessive towards her. We know also that he keeps pigeons. The story is told largely from his viewpoint and whatever it means, it is certainly in some way about his learning or accepting things about Alice. Alice
Alice is the old man's granddaughter. She is a young woman but he still sees her as a child - or would like to do so. She looks young and sometimes acts in a carefree way, but mostly she has a serious and grown up...
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