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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.

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A KESTREL FOR A KNAVE

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A KESTREL FOR A KNAVE

By Barry Hines


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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


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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.


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Key Characters

  • Billy Casper

    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.


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  • At 15, Billy is about to leave school and is expected to work down the mine.

  • At school Billy gets most satisfaction from his English lessons where he is allowed to use his vivid imagination.

  • He is intelligent and, when given the chance, very skilful (especially with Kes)

  • Jud

  • Jud is Billy’s brother.

  • He is aggressive, violent both physically and verbally not only to Billy, but his mother.

  • He uses bad language to Billy and calls him many unpleasant names, threatening him with murder amongst other unpleasant things.

  • He is arrogant, thinking he is God’s gift to women.

  • His murder of Kes at the end of the novel seems to destroy all hope.

  • When we first see Jud he is fighting and kicking Billy in their bedroom, which shows their poor relationship.

  • He hates his job, down in the mine, but that is where most of the men are expected to work.

  • Jud makes fun of Billy for getting a book from the library.


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  • Mrs Casper

  • Billy’s mother is presented as a pathetic figure.

  • She is not much of a mother as the description of the house at the start of the novel proves; it is cold, unwelcoming and there is no food.

  • She is a coward and doesn’t stand up to her own son Jud.

  • She treats Billy badly, getting him to run errands for her.

  • She uses bad language around Billy and even asks Billy for a cigarette showing the bad example she is.

  • She spends ages getting ready for the pub, showing her vain side. She is more concerned about this than she is about Billy.

  • Mr Sugden

  • The PE teacher

  • A comic figure who is a bully and just a big kid.

  • He appears in the comic centrepiece of the novel, the games lesson.

  • He is unfit and a cheat, a figure of ridicule amongst the boys.


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  • Mr Gryce

  • The headmaster of the school is presented as a comic figure. In the assembly his behaviour is vindictive and indiscriminate.

  • He is made to seem foolish with the description of the papers falling off his lectern at the end of the assembly.

  • In his study he is boring and does not listen to the boys, including the one who is just there to pass on a message, punishing them all indiscriminately.

  • He is totally disinterested in caring for the youth of his day.

  • His violence is shown fully with the caning of the boys in this scene and the seeming pleasure he gets from it.

  • Mr Farthing

  • Billy’s English teacher

  • He understands Billy the most and is interested in him.

  • He has the respect of the class, unlike the other teachers we meet.

  • He can joke with the class, but has firm discipline when required.

  • Mr Farthing shows a genuine interest in Billy's kestrel and comes to see it at lunchtime.

  • He asks intelligent questions, allowing Billy to show his knowledge about kestrels.

  • When he breaks the fight up in the yard he shows he is not to be taken lightly.


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Key scenes

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 assembly

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.


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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.


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Flying Kes

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.


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Kes

Kes

  • Kes symbolises Billy’s escape from the harsh realities of the life he is in.

  • It shows he has the ability to look after something (something his own mother lacks) and when in the right circumstances he is caring, mature and resourceful in a positive manner.

  • He talks to it gently which is the opposite to how most people talk to him.

  • Although Billy steals the library book (because he is abused by the adults again) he is genuinely interested in kestrels and the book will tell him how to look after one.

    The natural world

  • The novel describes the natural world in detail.

  • There is the greyness of the area where Billy lives.

  • When we see birds and animals the language becomes more positive and conveys a sense of optimism.

  • The scene where Billy find the birds in their nest shows the beauty and wonder of nature and also of Billy’s careful and caring side.


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Summary

  • The world of the novel is a grim one.

  • Billy’s life is miserable; he has nothing to look forward to.

  • Kes gives him a purpose in life, it is a means of escape from the life he leads.

  • The adult figures largely don’t care about the younger characters.

  • The description of the scenes reflect the beauty of nature when Billy is with Kes and the dark, depressing side of nature when Billy is at home.

  • The comedy in the novel ridicules most of the adult figures, particularly most of the teachers and Billy's family.

  • Mr Farthing seems to be the only one genuinely interested in Billy’s talents.

  • Life will carry on as it always has done after the novel ends.


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