Flight by Doris Lessing
In Flight by Doris Lessing we have the theme of anger, acceptance, jealousy, conflict, change, independence, letting go and freedom. Taken from her African Stories collection the story is narrated in the third person by an unnamed narrator and after reading the story the reader realises that Lessing may be exploring the theme of anger. Alice’s grandfather is angry about her relationship with Steven. He does not consider it to be appropriate for a young girl of her age. If anything the grandfather feels as though he may be losing Alice to Steven which may cause him to feel jealous of Alice and Steven’s relationship. The reader also feels as though the grandfather has lived his life yet he is not happy with the circumstances he finds himself in. He likes company yet since Alice’s three sisters have gotten married the grandfather may actually feel lonely and bitter. Something that is clearer to the reader when the grandfather tells Alice that he will tell her mother that she is waiting for Steven. It may also be important that the grandfather is the one constant voice in the story. The reader is given an insight into how he thinks and it is contrary to how others around him think.
It may also be a case that the grandfather does not like change. With old age comes stubbornness and a lack of will to change one’s habits. This is very much the case when it comes to the grandfather. He is set in his ways and his belief that Alice should not marry Steven. If anything some readers might consider the grandfather to be selfish by way of the fact that he is only thinking about himself and not Alice’s happiness. Whereas Alice’s mother sees nothing wrong with Alice getting married. She herself got married at seventeen while Alice is a year older. There is also a sense of irony in the story when it comes to the grandfather’s beliefs about Alice getting married. If anything he needs to grow up. Which is ironic considering that he is the oldest character in the story. Times may have changed and the grandfather has not changed with them. How the grandfather feels about Alice also results in the grandfather feeling conflicted within himself. Alice is the last of his granddaughters and he knows that he will be lonely when she marries Steven.
There may also be some symbolism in the story that could be important. The pigeons symbolise how the grandfather feels about Alice. Just as they are trapped in the dovecote. Alice too is trapped at home or at least her grandfather wishes to see he trapped at home. By freeing all the pigeons at the end of the story the grandfather is also symbolically giving his blessing to Alice and Steven and freeing Alice. No longer is she under his control nor does she have to do what he says. Not that Alice really listened to her grandfather. This too could be important as it suggests that Alice has an independent streak. That she is her own person. Regardless of what her grandfather might think on matters with her and Steven. In fact throughout the story Alice shows herself to be independent, particularly when she is swinging freely on the gate. It is the grandfather who lacks any sort of freedom with him being reliant on others to help him and only his birds to occupy his time.
It is also clear that Alice is as stubborn as her grandfather. Something that is noticeable when Alice refuses to care about her grandfather telling her mother that she is waiting for Steven. In many ways the story is a battle of wills with Alice winning out. However the fact that Alice is crying when the birds are free may suggest that she is fully aware of the meaning of her grandfather letting the birds fly away. She too is flying away and will miss her grandfather. Even if they do appear to be at loggerheads throughout the story. In reality each character in the story wins out. Alice gets the blessing of her grandfather. Steven gets the woman he loves. Alice’s mother sees that her daughter is happy. There is complete acceptance of the circumstances. Particularly when it comes to the grandfather who has managed to let go of Alice and will see her grow into a woman. He may not have initially liked the idea of Alice getting married but he puts Alice before himself. No longer is he thinking selfishly and only of himself. Which may leave some readers to suspect that the grandfather has changed as a person. Happy for his granddaughter to marry Steven even if it means he may be that little bit lonelier.
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