Flight Behavior Summary and Study Guide
SuperSummary, a modern alternative to SparkNotes and CliffsNotes, offers high-quality study guides for challenging works of literature. This 49-page guide for “Flight Behavior” by Barbara Kingsolver includes detailed chapter summaries and analysis covering 14 chapters, 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 Nature, Life, and Rebirth and Marriage.
Barbara Kingsolver’s 2012 novel Flight Behavior presents a compelling symbolic connection between Dellarobia Turnbow, an unhappy farm wife who secretly dreams of running away from it all, and a surprising migration of monarch butterflies that alight upon her in-law’s property in Feathertown, Tennessee. As the butterflies struggle to survive and reproduce to continue their species, Dellarobia struggles in her efforts to deal with the consequences of her past decisions and the possibility of her new life. Her delayed coming-of-age opens up a multitude of options for her and her children.
The novel begins as Dellarobia strides up the family’s mountain path to meet up with a man she plans to sleep with. Desperate to do something to sabotage the marriage she is trapped in, Dellarobia sees adultery as a means by which to express her unhappiness. When she was seventeen and pregnant, her shotgun marriage to Cub Turnbow seemed to cement her future. As she grows resentful and bored of her life as a stay-at-home mom and farmer’s wife, she decides on an act of self-destruction, only to be stopped in her tracks by an fantastic sight: thousands upon thousands of monarch butterflies are hanging from the trees at the top of the High Road trail. Believing this is a sign, Dellarobia decides not to pursue the affair and returns to her home a changed woman.
When Dellarobia finds out that her father-in-law, Bear Turnbow, plans to sell the land where the butterflies had roosted to a logging company, she encourages her husband to look the land over first. The entire family heads up the trail and is awestruck by the sight of the bright orange and black insects filling their forest and valley. The religious Turnbows share this knowledge at their church, and the vision is declared akin to a miracle by the pastor.
Bear is not convinced that this is God’s work, and because his family desperately needs the money, he pushes on with the logging project. Meanwhile, visitors and tourists from all over the world come to the Turnbow property to have a glimpse of the butterflies, and the family begins charging for tours. One visitor, scientist Ovid Byron, meets Dellarobia and tells her that he needs to study these butterflies. They usually migrate to Mexico, but severe flooding due to logging destroyed their homes, and for some reason, they came here to Feathertown. Ovid believes that the butterflies’ arrival presages a disastrous result of global warming.
Dellarobia, Ovid, and Ovid’s assistants begin to work together in Ovid’s makeshift lab, which he parks on the Turnbow property. While doing so, they learn a great deal about their significant socioeconomic differences. Dellarobia has always been considered intelligent, but she is aware that her hometown provided a subpar education to her because the emphasis was on becoming a farmer, not on going to college. Despite her limited background, Dellarobia gets a job working for Ovid and finds a sincere passion for studying the butterflies. Unlike Cub, Ovid earns Dellarobia’s respect, and she develops a crush on him. The arrival of his wife quickly ends that fantasy, but not Dellarobia’s new desire to branch out on her own and see if she can make a future for herself and her children.
With the assistance of the local pastor and, surprisingly, Cub himself, Bear gives up the logging contract, and the Turnbow trail is made a preserve for the butterflies. A sudden winter storm nearly destroys the monarch colonies, but enough life emerges in the end to provide hope that the species will adapt and continue. Like the butterflies, Dellarobia hopes to do the same, and so she separates from her husband and moves away with her children, in order to start a new life.