Last Reviewed on June 19, 2019, by eNotes Editorial. Word Count: 355
Themes of Fly Girls include prejudice, tragedy, and hope.
Prejudice is a major theme in the book. Each of the five pilots that Keith O'Brien focuses on are blocked from being accepted as pilots and flying in races simply because they're women. During the time when women like Amelia Earhart and Ruth Elder flew, most women were scorned for doing so. There was a national discourse on whether it was safe for them to even participate in the races that brought winners large monetary rewards.
Tragedy is another important theme in the book. None of the women has a particularly happy ending except for—to some extent—Elder. Earhart is lost during a flight. Klingensmith is killed in a crash. Nichols kills herself. Elder tries to kill herself, loses her fame and money, and goes through five marriages before settling down happily with an earlier husband. The women face hardships that aren't overcome simply because they achieve their goals of being able to fly. Some of the tragedy stems from the dangerous circumstances of flight at the time but a lot of it comes from the way society treated the women. Elder even had to change her first name once she lost her money and notoriety to stay away from the public. Women were largely scorned for participating in what was seen as a man's business and that impacted their lives in a negative way. The women who weren't lost or killed lost different things—like family—by choosing to be a pilot.
Hope and determination, though, are the strongest themes of the book. Despite everything, the women worked hard to achieve what must have, at times, seemed like impossible goals. Their spirit encouraged others to get involved in flying and opened up the practice to women more than it had been before. They won the hearts and minds of America at different times and in different ways; at one point, for example, Elder was even offered movie deals. They were determined to push past the barriers put before them because they had the hope that they'd be able to do what they loved—fly.
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