Pigeon English Summary and Study Guide

Stephen Kelman

Pigeon English

  • 37-page comprehensive study guide
  • Features detailed chapter summaries and 5 sections of expert analysis
  • Written by a college professor with a PhD in English
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Pigeon English Summary and Study Guide

SuperSummary, a modern alternative to SparkNotes and CliffsNotes, offers high-quality study guides for challenging works of literature. This 37-page guide for “Pigeon English” by Stephen Kelman includes detailed chapter summaries and analysis, as well as several more in-depth sections of expert-written literary analysis. Featured content includes commentary on major characters, 25 important quotes, essay topics, and key themes like Religion and Gang Violence and Emotional Abuse.

Plot Summary

Stephen Kelman’s 2011 debut novel, Pigeon English, recounts eleven-year-old Harrison (Harri) Opoku’s move with his mother and older sister from Ghana to England, where they go to live in a working-class apartment complex in a London estate, a tough environment plagued by crime and violence. A coming-of-age narrative that explores the binary of innocence and experience, Harri’s narrative captures what it means to be a young boy in the modern era dealing with all of the trials and joys of childhood. The novel opens with Harri observing a local crime scene, where a young boy who Harri knows from the neighborhood had been murdered outside of Chicken Joe’s with no apparent motive. No one comes forward to the police with any helpful information regarding the details of the murder. Instead, Harri, who is in Year Seven at his school, joins up with his friend Dean Griffin to solve the case of who killed the dead boy. Together, Harri and Dean set out to discreetly interview potential suspects, gathering evidence and keeping sellotape on hand to lift any fingerprints while spying on the neighborhood gang, the Dell Farm Crew, who continually threatens them. Kelman, who grew up in the housing projects of Luton, England, is writing this novel in light of the surge of stabbings and knife violence happening in England. More particularly, he draws from a case where ten-year old Nigerian immigrant, Damilola Taylor, is stabbed to death by two other boys in a stairwell.

Kelman captures the voice and internal logic of an eleven-year old boy and Harri’s narrative is sincere, comical, and heartfelt. More often than not, it is Harri’s naiveté that lands him in compromising situations, as he places too much trust in the world around him. His pigeon, which he covertly tries to feed and converse with during its frequent visits to his windowsill, functions like a guardian angel of sorts (if only in his own mind). The pigeon takes over the narrative on occasion, which provides a more somber, adult-like viewpoint of Harri’s world.

Harri’s younger sister, father, and grandmother are still over in Ghana preparing to eventually make the move to England once finances are in order. Harri’s mother is in a precarious situation, having made a deal with a man Julius who sells black-market visas and engages in other fraudulent activity, brutally strong-arming his clients. In this non-linear narrative, Harri includes memories of his life in Ghana, which seem to emphasize a past life of pure innocence, morality and simplicity in contrast to his London life, which continues to threaten to corrupt that innocence and good will. Harri’s church at The Jubilee Center and the associated community stand as a sanctuary that is somehow simultaneously a part of and separate from this new urban life, acting like a moral tether to his Ghanaian roots. When a revered, older member of his church is attacked by the Dell Farm Crew with Harri as an accomplice, he is ridden with guilt and takes a renewed stance to avoid any more evil and unjust temptations. This also reinvigorates his pursuit of the killer and the narrative comes to a saturation point with him and his older sister, Lydia, confronting the killer and his girlfriend.

School life becomes increasingly stressful for Harri with all of the bullying and violence, especially because of the forbidden knowledge he holds, though it is still peppered with youthful fun and games that he describes excitedly. He makes it to the end of the school year, full of love for his girlfriend Poppy Morgan and sheer childlike joy for the start of summer, only to be ambushed by the killer in the lobby of his apartment complex and left to bleed out and die, with his last thoughts those of his baby sister in Ghana.

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