Flight Doris Lessing
The author – Doris Lessing • Doris Lessing was born in 1919, in what is now Iran. When she was five years old, she moved with her British parents to what is now Zimbabwe. • She was brought up in the African countryside and had a generally unhappy childhood. Her mother was very strict and her father very bitter - his farm was not a success and he had been badly injured in World War One
Plot • Flight starts with an old man looking after his pigeons. • He has a favourite - a young, healthy bird that he is holding carefully. The man looks out happily across the countryside, until he sees his granddaughter swinging on a gate in the distance. The old man suddenly appears annoyed. He almost allows the young pigeon to fly off, then grabs it and locks it away in the small box. Flight is deliberately vague about many aspects of the plot, but as you will see the characters in the story give plenty of scope for investigation.
Summary • Flight is a very short story. We do not know many facts about the four main characters, and the events take place over perhaps just an hour in the man's life. We learn very little of what took place before this, and nothing of what happens after. • The story is deliberately unclear, especially when you look for reasons why someone does something. For instance, we cannot be sure why the old man lets his favourite bird leave. And we can only guess why Alice is crying at the end. • We do, however, get a clear picture of the different characters and their relationships with one another. This is what you need to concentrate on in your answers. The next section looks in detail at how you should write about the characters, and what part they play in the story.
The grandfather is very possessive of Alice. He still sees her as a young child - even though she is 18 - and loves her. • He has probably spoilt her in the past and is still very close to her, perhaps because she is the youngest of his grandchildren. He talks about her as if she is a pigeon, asking his daughter if they 'can keep her a bit longer?'.
Contrasts and Comparisons • The story contains a number of contrasts, such as the views of the different generations on leaving home. • We also see a contrast between how Lucy and the old man behave: he is much more like a child. In some ways, even Alice behaves in a more mature manner: she does not 'thump' her feet or shout like him. • There are also a lot of comparisons between nature and the characters. The most obvious relates to the pigeons. They act as symbols, so the pigeon at the start is just like Alice: young, the grandfather’s favourite and 'pretty', but straining to fly away.
The old man can control the bird by locking it away, but he cannot control Alice. When he releases the pigeon, it is like releasing Alice. Both must move away to make their own way in the world. • Comparisons are also made between their bodies. Alice's legs are like the stems on the tree, while the old man’s fingers are 'curling like claws into his palm'. In other words, his fingers are like his pigeons' claws. • Meanwhile, Alice and Steven are 'like puppies on the grass'. • These constant references to nature and comparisons can give the impression that the characters are simply part of nature. They also make us believe it is natural for Alice to want to leave home, just as it is natural for her grandfather to wish her to stay.