Flight Behavior is a novel that takes its time, perhaps too much so. It has a lot going on under its surface story about migrating butterflies. It touches on themes of personal growth, relationships, media, social class, and climate change denial. While the novel smartly takes its time in developing each relationship in the story, I feel the focus on the interpersonal relationships in Dellarobia’s life is to the detriment of the overall climate message that Kingsolver hoped to convey.
The novel, while technically “about” the migration of monarch butterflies, which migrate to Tennessee instead of Mexico due to climate change, centers on Dellarobia’s relationships with her family and friends. Specifically, the book focuses on the state of her marriage. Over the course of the novel, Dellarobia finds herself drawn away from her husband, Cub, through a discovery of her own intelligence and potential, as well as her growing attraction to other men such as her telephone guy and Ovid Byron, the climate scientist. Her relationships with these people, as well as those with the rest of her family and friends, help humanize the character and the novel itself. However, the novel takes its time doing so, and one can argue that it takes too much time. At times, the books drags on with scenes of pointless conversations and pages filled with unnecessary descriptions of nature.
The novel also presents an interesting class conflict, which I felt distracted from the climate change message initially, but ended up enhancing it through its portrayal of climate denial. I found the descriptions of class to be the strongest parts of the book. The comparisons drawn between the lives of Dellarobia and her neighbors, and the visiting climate scientists and tourists, are quite stunning. My favorite scene in the book took place when one of the climate scientists attempted to lecture Dellarobia about her carbon emissions and made the mistake of asking her to fly less and to bring Tupperware to restaurants for take out. Poor Dellarobia had never flown, and hadn’t eaten at a restaurant for two years. The climate scientists are also shocked at her lack of a college education and her sparse knowledge of mathematics. The class struggle works both ways, however. Dellarobia briefly describes Cub’s fascination with a TV show that is not named, but can only be The Big Bang Theory. He laughs at what he perceives to be rich nerds failing completely at social interaction. Dellarobia takes note of their expensive looking possessions and thinks he ought not to judge. These differences highlight the class divisions present in the novel and uncover instances of privilege, which is an extremely interesting topic. Here, however, the differences are used to display ignorance to the problem of climate change. The less educated and the religious seem to both be lower class, and also more frequent deniers of climate change. While these people are not the real problems, as their lifestyles do not significantly increase carbon emissions, they are also the people that vote those that deny climate change into office. Bear talks about his staunch support of cutting taxes for the 1%, which, as we know, perpetuates the big businesses that contribute to emissions. Also, the religious such as Hester see the butterflies as simply beautiful, and refuse to believe that anything sinister is going on. Hester believes that God sent them, and condemns Dellarobia’s protests that the butterflies are an indication of a deeper problem.
The novel has something very interesting to say about media and climate change that I believe is very relevant to our society’s current situation. In the novel, the poorly educated townpeople of Dellarobia’s Tennessee home are hesitant to accept that climate change is the cause of the migration, and the presence of the butterflies is not a gift. In addition, media outlets twist the story to focus on Dellarobia’s human-interest story, rather than the importance of the butterflies’ migration habits. When Ovid is interviewed and asked a question about climate changed, the interviewer leads him to answer as she wants, and when he is honest, she declares that she cannot air the footage. Luckily, Dovey catches it all on her phone, and the video goes viral.
This portrayal of the media is unfortunately accurate. A whole industry exists behind the denial of climate change, sowing doubt into the minds of the people so that the common man will not bother with the issue and companies will be left alone to poison the earth. One example is a pamphlet passed out by an electric company, claiming that global warming was caused by the sun and not carbon dioxide. “Despite every major science academy in the world disagreeing with them, the pamphlet claimed the role of carbon dioxide was minor.” (A) Florida, a state in which rising waters could have a devastating effect, has banned officials of its Department of Environmental Protection from using the phrase “climate change.” (B) These developments are deeply troubling and show the extent to which companies will go to prevent the loss of profits, to the detriment of the rest of the planet.
Fortunately, there is a thriving activist movement working against climate change. While change on a large scale is the only thing that will save the earth, there are many groups working to change public opinion into one of consensus that climate change is happening. The novel portrays this group in the form of the protesters who picket the logging of the area where the butterflies reside, and the knitters who send Dellarobia knitwear for the butterflies. While these methods might not do much in the short term, they are indicative of a public interest in the subject, which can only help. Dovey’s video of Ovid’s interview goes viral, which exposes the censorship of the media and displays his true scientific explanations of the situation. The Internet is a huge asset to the activist movement. Websites such as 350.org (C), also mentioned in the novel, help to organize people and to change minds.
Overall, I thought that this novel displayed some good themes about climate change and class that were provocative and had the potential to start interesting discussions. However, I felt as though the book was bogged down by excessive focus on interpersonal relationships and descriptions of nature. I enjoyed the book fine as it was, but I feel as though many people whose minds are not already made up about climate change would not find this book very appealing to read.