Flight Behavior Summary

Barbara Kingsolver

Flight Behavior

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Flight Behavior Summary

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Flight Behavior by Barbara Kingsolver creates a mesmerizing comparison between the life trajectory of Dellarobia Turnbow, an unhappy housewife on the verge of cheating, and the migration of the Monarch butterfly, a hypnotic yet earth-altering effect of climactic change. The story is set in Feathertown, Tennessee, and revolves around Dellarobia trying to deal with the choices she had made and wonders if she is ready to live the rest of her life with them.

The book opens with Dellarobia climbing the mountain behind her husband’s family farm to meet with a young man and have an affair that she had been considering for a long while. Having had a shotgun marriage to her now husband Cub right out of high school because Dellarobia was pregnant, she feels bored by her rural lifestyle, and regretful of that marriage, especially since she miscarried that first child. On her way up to meet this future lover of hers, she looks back down at the farm and sees a blanket of bright orange covering the back area of her farm as well as the trees and sky beyond it. Having come from a very religious background, she takes this as a sign and decides against the affair.

Dellarobia returns to the farm home which they share with Cub’s parents because of some bad business plans in their past, and she learns that Cub’s father, Bear is about to sign a contract with a logging company to come and wipe out the entire backdrop of their farm. Dellarobia, not wanting to admit she was scaling the mountain without giving a reason she was up there tells Cub to go up there and search one last time, since there might be some resources they can harvest, before giving up the land to the logging company, and as they all head up there, they discover that the orange that Dellarobia saw was a beautiful sea of Monarch Butterflies – this causes the family to tell the priest that Dellarobia had a “vision” of the butterflies.

Because the village of Feathertown is a very devout and God-fearing one, many of the townspeople consider the sudden appearance of butterflies flooding their mountains to be an omen, however Bear needs the money, and he does not care, and is willing to move forward with having the logging company take the mountain, despite the butterflies having made it their new home.

As the news of the butterflies travels further, many reporters come to witness and document the beauty of the Monarch butterflies – along with them comes a scientist, Ovid Byron, who claims that the Monarch butterflies have gone off their natural migration patterns because of sudden climate change. He states that they were previously in Mexico, however, the most recent mudslides and floods caused them to migrate prematurely and go off their path, worrying Ovid about this as it is a sign of a worsening global climate, especially since the vast difference in temperatures between Mexico and Tennessee might actually cause all the butterflies to die.

As the story progresses, Ovid Byron grows angry about how callously the town views global climate, and how little they care. Besides, the town is preoccupied with a new story that Dellarobia saw the butterflies because she was up on that mountain about to commit suicide. But Dellarobia is no longer concerned, now that she is working closely with Ovid, taking notes and documenting the movement patterns of the Monarch butterflies, and finds herself thinking about an affair once more, but this time with Ovid.

However, shortly after, Ovid’s wife comes down to Tennessee, crushing Dellarobia’s fantasy, but making her realize that she in fact is unhappy, and it is not about having an affair – it is more about not wanting to stay with Cub any longer, because they were married way too young, and she hadn’t had time to live her own life. Even though Cub was adamantly on his father’s side, and wanted to let the logging company through, Dellarobia’s suggestion for a separation softens Cub, and he decides to convince his father to back out of the contract he had with the logging company, which he begrudgingly does.

After a while, winter comes and the butterflies begin to migrate along a new pattern, and although it seems at first that they have died because of the snow, Dellarobia sees them emerge out after the melting frost, and finds hope for herself as well, that she will be able to break out of her usual routine, and start a new life. She moves off the farm with her children and decides to return to college with faith that she will be able to survive on her own.

Not only is Flight Behavior on the New York Best Seller’s list, but it was also dubbed “Best Book of the year” by USA Today and the Washington Post. Its characters are strong and unique, and its themes are powerful, especially the very evident “faith versus science” angle, which not only covers the entire story, and separates the townspeople down the middle, but also very clearly identifies Dellarobia’s inner conflict as someone who has lived one life, but has visions of another life close behind, making the readers wonder whether you can have one without the other.