Flight Behavior – Discussion Questions
Barbara Kingsolver’s book, The Poisonwood Bible, is one of my top five favorite books ever. The complexity in her writing is astounding, touching on religious beliefs, socioeconomic class structure, environmental concerns, and human nature. Flight Behavior by Barbara Kingsolver is no different. It is a rich, picturesque novel about poverty, everyday miracles, and lost causes.
Set in the present day in the rural community of Feathertown, Tennessee, Flight Behavior tells the story of Dellarobia Turnbow, a petite, razor-sharp 29-year-old who nurtured worldly ambitions before becoming pregnant and marrying at seventeen. Now, after more than a decade of tending to small children on a failing farm, oppressed by poverty, isolation and her husband’s antagonistic family, she has mitigated her boredom by surrendering to an obsessive flirtation with a handsome younger man.
In the opening scene, Dellarobia is headed for a secluded mountain cabin to meet this man and initiate what she expects will be a self-destructive affair. But the tryst never happens. Instead, she walks into something on the mountainside she cannot explain or understand: a forested valley filled with silent red fire that appears to her a miracle.
After years lived entirely in the confines of one small house, Dellarobia finds her path suddenly opening out, chapter by chapter, into blunt and confrontational engagement with her family, her church, her town, her continent, and finally the world at large.
-From Harper Collins
Harper Collins has a wonderful selection of brilliant questions for discussion. Consider the following additional discussion questions for your book club:
- “Southern Appalachian culture, [Kingsolver] says, is “mostly derided in the world—hillbillies are one of the last ethnic groups who are routinely mocked without consequence.” (Telegraph interview) Consider the focus on anti-bully messages, why do you think we still deride and ridicule cultures as adults? Is it human nature?
- Did you learn anything about the Southern Appalachian culture? Did their lifestyle give you insight into challenges faced by today’s American impoverished?
- Dellarobia explains the culture in Feathertown to Ovid. “Sports. That’s huge, a kid can shine if he’s good at football or baseball. Probably get a job later on in the bank or something like that.” ( page 223) Have you ever encountered thinking similar to this?
- “Religion is like underwear – it’s very important and you keep it next to you all the time and you don’t talk about it,” Kingsolver has said in interviews, yet many of her books delve deeply into religion. How do the two different factions (religion and science) view the phenomenon of the butterflies?
- Why do you think Dellarobia stopped smoking?
- Kingsolver writes, “Being a stay at home mom is the loneliest kind of lonely.” (page 59) Have you ever been a stay at home mom? What was your biggest challenge? What is it about motherhood which can seem isolating and polarizing?
- “She knew there was something wrong with her. Some insidious weakness in her heart or resolve that would let her fly off and commit to some big nothing, all of her own making.” (page 80) Would Dellarobia have left if the butterflies never appeared? What kind of life would she have had?
- Why did the photo of Dellarobia become a meme? Why do memes and other short attention span entertainment options keep our attention while larger, important issues (such as climate change) don’t?
- Eventually the butterflies become common place, or less-miraculous to the townspeople. Why do we discount miracles when we’ve had too much exposure to them?
- Can you draw any parallels between Dellarobia’s exposure to the thrift store and the butterflies?
- When an activist shows Dellarobia the pamphlet on how to lower your carbon footprint, he is stunned when he finds almost nothing is applicable to her and her neighbors. It is marked contrast between the haves and the have-nots. What can each learn from each other?
- Concerning global warming, Ovid has a very fatalistic view. Without encouraging contentious discussion, what are your views on climate change and global warming? What can be done? What are you doing?
Kingsolver writes “Animals behave with purpose, unlike people.” (Page 42) One of the wonderful things about novels is the studied complexity of people and their interactions. In literary novels like Flight Behavior, truth and revelation can often be seen more clearly in fiction.
I will be posting the recipe for Nectarine cupcakes later this week. May words nourish your soul.