Fight or Flight



Flight Behavior earns its name, whether it’s the housewife, Dellarobia, running towards a new man, the monarchs flying to a new home, or the comment on social class when poor Appalachian women is told to help the environment by flying less.

While the butterfly migration stands out as the frequent flyer, it is important to remember the other definitions of the word flight, the more fitting description of flight in the context of the fight, Flight can be an escape from the confines of unrelenting and imminent disaster.

Dellarobia flees her husband when her husband becomes or is recognized as an inescapable force of benign intent but infuriating character. She can see no other way to salvation besides the first one she finds and in her desperation marches towards an ill-advised affair. He monarchs face an unknown and changed weather that leads them to one area of safety, they have no idea that they’ve committed to death and believe that the path that they’ve taken will save them.

Civilization faces a similar problem. Many of us feel the hunger pains and search for the first sign of food without thinking of the consequences. When those pains are no longer there; we still remember them vivid as day. We also remember that the world can make you hungry again, we’ve seen or been the victim of a closed factory an outsourced department. The hunger is always there and the fear of that life is a prison.

Telling civilization to endure hunger and work to prevent something that we do not know seems reasonable when that hunger is for a new car or a new house. But, the hunger to keep the crumbling house together, the hunger of choosing whether stealing is justified if it’s to feed your child, those we can feel. How do you explain to someone that they need to vote against a new factory and a consistent income in favor of clean air that they’re too anxious to enjoy?

Flight Behavior brings the beauty of the temporary salvation into the conversation on climate change; it shows the reasoning behind our sins and the ignorance that caused them, along with the fear of losing everything. Then it shows the truth behind our fears. We’re running from an attack and into a busy street. We will hunger and hurt, but if we do not, we will not survive.

Flight Behavior: Too much drama, not enough climate

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 (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.



A Beautiful Warning for Climate Change

I really enjoyed reading Barbara Kingsolver’s Flight Behavior. Yes, it was really dense and I think some parts of it could’ve been shortened, but I really liked the critiques on society’s inaction and denial of climate change throughout the book. I also enjoyed the different stories woven in throughout it such as Dellarobia’s infidelity, her feeling trapped in her life, and the overarching theme of the monarch butterflies serving as a warning for climate change.

I think Dellarobia’s infidelity springs from her feeling trapped in her life. Everyday is the same: pinching pennies, changing diapers, lying down next to a husband you’re not in love with, and maybe never were to begin with. Who wouldn’t be miserable? There were several instances in the beginning of the book (and mostly in the beginning, since in the latter she discovers she has more agency than she realized) where Kingsolver explains Della’s feelings of wanting to get out of her life. Dellarobia also had to make a lot of compromises, like going to church when she had little desire to do so. It feels like for the most part, until she actually becomes involved in helping with the butterflies, Della feels that the only way she can escape her life is through cheating, or thinking about cheating. I’m not sure if that’s a fair assessment, because it’s a lot more complex than that, but it’s not until the very end when she sees how happy Ovid is with his wife Juliet that she drops her dreams of being with him and realizes that there are other ways to escape her life than by getting emotionally attached to another man.

I think another component that aids in her feeling trapped is Cub. Even though she bosses him around for a good portion of the book, there are still a lot of gender roles at play. Like when she’s talking to Dovey and saying that Cub wouldn’t want her working because it would be a negative reflection on Cub as her husband and as a man (190). Her having a job really shouldn’t affect Cub’s manhood, but it does, so she feels trapped into continuing on as a stay-at-home mother until Dovey convinces her otherwise. It’s not until she actually obtains a job and is progressing through it that her family starts to respect her, even Hester. And of course, the possibility of splitting up their family, one that she seems to question at times, is another thing that keeps her from leaving in the beginning. It’s obvious that she loves her kids, but love doesn’t always stop you from asking huge ‘what if’ questions about your life.

Then there’s money and the lack of it. When Dellarobia is talking to Ovid about the failing educational system in her town, and the about the irrelevance of college for kids from her town, it’s really disheartening, and I think one of the most important parts of the book. It seemed like upward mobility in the town was severely limited if you weren’t an athlete in school, whom Della notes as having the town in their hands (223). She says to Ovid, “Doctor of all the sciences, Harvard and everything… there’s not room at the top for everybody. Most of us have to walk around in our sleep, accepting our underprivileged condition” (225). The acceptance of this stunts anyone’s agency and it obviously stunts Dellarobia’s until the end when she realizes that it’s not too late for her to go to college and do something else with her life.

And finally, climate change. The book centers around the town’s complacency with some serious warning signs. Of course the butterflies that everyone wants to regard as miracle are abnormal. Then there’s the constant raining and flooding, which throws off their wool production. Still, the people of her town are in active denial and it’s most easily seen through Cub and through Dellarobia as well. Cub dismisses it in a biblical sense, saying that only God can control the climate. Ovid and Della’s conversation steers more in the direction of her just ignoring the signs. She says to him, “They say it’s just just cycles… that it goes through this every so often” (281). The inaction and denial from the people of the town comes from them claiming that there’s no visual evidence. As of yet, these peoples haven’t been tragically affected by climate change, besides the raining, which they choose to see as ‘just a cycle’. Because of this denial, it makes it all too easy for people to say that climate change doesn’t exist. You hear about it on the radio, see it on the news, but if it’s not actively affecting your daily commute to work or school, then it’s easy to act like it’s not that bad. We all do it. The butterflies that are at the crux of the story serve as a warning that something is coming and that things are changing. But throughout the book, there is still denial, because the butterflies are just so beautiful to look at.

In that vein, I think I’m more inclined to agree with George Marshall’s article for the New York Times, “Climate Fiction Will Reinforce Existing Views”. I think that cli-fi can enlighten people in a lot of different ways about climate change as long as it’s not, as Marshall puts it, “and overblown apocalyptic story” that in essence, distances the reader. Kingsolver’s book isn’t over the top and is entirely plausible, making it relatable to a wider audience.


  1. Kingsolver, Barbara. Flight Behavior: A Novel. New York: Harper, 2012. Print.
  2. Smith, PD. “Before The Flood.” The Guardian. The Guardian, 16 Jan. 2004. Web. 10 Mar. 2015.

Flight Behavior: a message about climate change disguised as a drama about people

I had fun reading Flight Behavior, trying to decide which of the several subplots was going to become the main story. There’s a lot going on. The narrative follows Dellarobia Turnbow, an orphan, mother, and housewife, whose possibilities are much bigger than the small rural Tennessee town, stale marriage, and “hand-me-down life” she is living. She deals with annoying neighbors, a weird plague of butterflies, a hands-on introduction to science, attempted adultery, a yawning husband and inscrutable in-laws, the memory of a miscarriage, and the big-time worries that come with a dawning understanding of the perils of climate change. There is a wacky friend, too, and even sheep. It’s got everything.

Climate change is a noteworthy antagonist in the story, but the juiciest conflicts are definitely between the characters. Flight Behavior feels like a book about real, vulnerable people. And although the narrative point of view is limited to Dellarobia, Dellarobia understands how people like her husband and her neighbors think. That is, people like farmers who’ve never had much need to think about things outside their farm work, who were never allowed decent educations, who listen to conservative talk radio, and who honestly cannot believe in the fact of global warming. She relays this point of view vividly to the reader, with a sad sympathy that is striking.

Barbara Kingsolver’s writing style is ever-surprisingly fluid, flowing from subject to subject as Dellarobia daydreams or interprets. There are many standout passages. “She couldn’t see these things at all, stricken forests of killing tides. What she saw was the boy inside a man who was losing everything” (281).  “She could see that his old generosity was still there, but was sometimes being held captive by despair, like a living thing held underwater” (239).  “Men and barns are like a bucket of forks. Neatness is no part of the equation.” Delightful!

One portentous theme is the disconnection that people feel from one another. The disconnection between Dellarobia and Leighton Akins (the guy with the “Sustainability Pledge” pamphlets at the monarch roosting site), for example, is a funny one. As if she needs to pledge to be thrifty! And he has no idea what was so funny about it.

The picketers from the community college, too, don’t know the half of Bear’s motivation for considering a logging contract. They seem to think he’s evil, but really, he’s not hell-bent on butterfly blood. He’s desperate for money, about to lose his house to a long run of bad luck and bad weather.

Dellarobia and Cub’s marriage lacks any meaningful communication at all, and Dellarobia’s relationship with her mother-in-law Hester is like a sustained uncomfortable pose.

Even the perceptive and personable Ovid Byron “would have no inkling of the great slog of effort that tied up people like [Dellarobia] in the day-to-day.”

And finally, there are some people to whom the idea of climate change will be forever inconceivable. But to follow Dellarobia’s example, we should still seek hope, even as the sea levels rise, the weather goes haywire, and the epic extinction begins.

Kingsolver presents a broad and rich array of insights in this book.

Climate Change, Butterflies and Curiosity.

Flight Behavior by Barbara Kingsolver includes climate change, environmental & social issues that all need addressing, which are wrapped up in stunning prose and an interesting story. The monarchs, which become a main (beautiful) character in the story, and whose “flight behavior” is threatened by global climate change. This to me, mirrors the changes in the central character Dellarobia. Some of the most appealing parts of the novel were when she was trying to understand what was happening with the monachs, and discovering new ideas that she never heard of, due her circumstances and lack of education. She is genuine in her curiosity, which makes the teaching play well on the page. Even her reaction to Ovid describing the reporting on climate change, “the damn globe is catching fire, and the islands are drowning. The evidence is staring them in the face.” She reacted with rage (due to her news broadcasts), and bewilderment, which is a common reaction to the plethora of information regarding the issue. She even thinks “How could this be true, she thought, if no one was talking about it? People with influence. Important people made such a big deal over infinitely smaller losses.” That is spot on, as we have discussed many times in class, what it will take for “big business” to pay attention to the effects of climate change.

I found an interesting interview with Kingsolver on NPR, and she says, “You can introduce ideas to people in a non-threatening way. You can introduce science to people who didn’t know they were interested in science.” This is quite similar to the Erik Conway interview where he speaks about fiction giving more latitude in writing. Kingsolver goes on to say “…how it’s possible to begin a conversation…between scientists and non-scientists…progressive and conservative.” The accompanying article this week, “The Power of Climate Change Fiction,” also touches on this subject. “While science fiction films and novels often, and quite naturally, raise awareness of — or stimulate discussion about — scientific and technological issues including climate change, they seldom function as primers for the solutions we need for these very knotty problems.” Perhaps, even as stated films like the “Day After Tomorrow,” are so far-fetched, but they are also creating awareness and conversation about climate change and the more discussion, the better.

Kingsolver ends on a high note, giving her characters convincing wings to consider making changes in their own nature, even saying “what was the use of saving a world that had no soul left in it. Continents without butterflies, seas without coral reef…What if all human effort amounted basically to saving a place for ourselves to park?” Constantly we, (humans as a whole) are dismissing hard evidence that could shake us out of shared stupor. As Dellarobia states, ”…Man against Nature. Of all the possible conflicts, that was the one that was hopeless. Even a slim education had taught her this much: Man loses.” We are indeed currently losing, but I see small glimmers of hope in the much needed discussion and education on the issues than ever before.