A KESTREL FOR A KNAVE. By Barry Hines. A KESTREL FOR A KNAVE. Introduction; Stylistic features: Key messages Key characters: Billy, Jud, Mrs Casper, Mr Gryce, Mr Sugden, Mr Farthing Key incidents: the opening, assembly, the games lesson, flying Kes, death of Kes. Kes Summary.
A KESTREL FOR A KNAVE
By Barry Hines
Introduction; Stylistic features: Key messages
Key characters: Billy, Jud, Mrs Casper, Mr Gryce, Mr Sugden, Mr Farthing
Key incidents: the opening, assembly, the games lesson, flying Kes, death of Kes.
The novel looks at how life for one boy is dictated by where he lives and the attitudes of those he lives with.
All aspects of Billy Casper’s life (other than with Kes) are sad and depressing. Others have a very low expectancy of what Billy can achieve in his life.
Hines uses humour to present aspects of life as a way of lightening the mood and showing that all is not bleak, we can learn from this.
The Kestrel is Billy’s only source of hope in the novel, an outlet from the rest of his life.
Most of the novel shows a day in Billy’s life in chronological order, but there are a number of flashbacks to other scenes that have relevance to the story (such as finding the kestrel’s nest with babies in it) and also show Billy’s active imagination.
The world of the novel is a cruel one and there is little sense of hope at the end of the novel.
Billy is the central character of the novel.
His life is a dismal one and the novel follows a typical day in his life.
He is not trusted by the shop keeper and this sets up the lack of faith anyone has in Billy, which explains his behaviour (cheating on him and gaining revenge) and the desire to escape the world he lives in.
The theft of the orange juice and the eggs is merely because he is hungry and not being looked after.
Billy has a vivid imagination and this comes out in many scenes, including his reading of the Desperate Dan comic (where he can escape into another world) and the assembly.
He is strong, resourceful and independent.
He is the ‘knave’ in the title. Knaves were generally thieves, liars and cheeky, all characteristics Billy has through necessity to survive.
Physically he is smaller and weaker than the other boys, but he has more endurance as shown by the cold shower episode.
Billy is often described as dirty and it seems he rarely washes, but this is due to the bad example set for him at home.
The opening of the novel
Both inside and outside of Billy’s house is presented as dark, cold, grey and miserable. The writer uses pathetic fallacy (where the weather reflects the mood of the scene) to emphasise how miserable life is.
The whole scene is comic.
Mr Gryce shouts at the boys and is presented comically as an angry figure who loses his temper at the slightest thing. He is one of many adults in the novel who have no care for the young.
No one is interested in the prayers or the hymn.
Billy day dreams about looking after his kestrel, showing what is actually relevant to him.
Billy will be punished for daydreaming in assembly, showing the violence in the school system at the time.
The football match/ games lesson
The comic centre piece of the novel
Mr Sugden is a comic character and can’t be taken too seriously.
He uses big words but can’t explain them.
He pretends the match is a game between Liverpool and Manchester United, showing he is more immature than a lot of the boys.
He bullies Casper and others into playing.
He is a bad sport when they lose at the end, cheats by awarding his own team a penalty, scoring it himself and blames anyone but himself for their defeat.
Many of the boys are narrated as stereotypes and not their real names to show how discriminating games lessons could be e.g. ‘two fat boys’
The boys see through him though, calling him names.
His true vindictive nature comes when he makes Billy take a cold shower. The boys find it funny at first but soon lose interest and the scene ends with Billy as a figure of pity and Sugden as an evil fool.
When Billy flies Kes, he is totally happy.
It shows his skills as he knows all the technical terminology.
He speaks to Kes gently and is rewarded by a positive response from the bird.
The death of Kes
This is a cruel twist to the novel and takes away all sense of hope.
It is linked back to the disappearance of Billy’s father and his mother’s affair with another man.
It seems Billy will just be another victim of the cruel world he lives in.
Billy retreats to the cinema which is boarded up and closed, showing the decline of the society he lives in. it is a dark depressing ending, reflecting the life he leads.
There is a feeling that he will wake up the next day and all we be the same as before.
The natural world