H Is for Hawk Summary

H Is for Hawk is a memoir about the author’s experiences training a goshawk while grieving her father’s death.

  • After her father dies suddenly, Helen Macdonald, an English historian and falconer, begins training a young goshawk named Mabel.
  • Macdonald interweaves her own story with that of troubled author T. H. White, whose book The Goshawk recounts his struggle to train his own hawk in the 1930s.
  • Through flying Mabel, Macdonald initially retreats from the world but ultimately begins to heal from her grief, regaining a sense of trust and belonging as her bond with the goshawk grows.


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Last Updated on August 19, 2020, by eNotes Editorial. Word Count: 1380

Author Helen Macdonald goes to a forest northeast of Cambridge to watch for goshawks. Macdonald is an academic, and she loves this part of the country because it is wild and rich with history. After waiting and watching, Macdonald sees male and female goshawks circling each other in the air; then they disappear. She has a memory of birdwatching with her father and him explaining to her for the first time the concept of “patience.”

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Three weeks later, Macdonald receives a call from her mother: her father has died. In a blur of grief, she goes to London, attends the funeral, and picks up her father’s car from the impound lot. Macdonald returns to Cambridge, has a brief and unsuccessful romance with a man who leaves her when he discovers the depth of her grief, and dreams about hawks. It rains heavily.

Macdonald was twelve years old when she first saw falconers at work flying their goshawks, and this experience impacted her tremendously; she goes on to become a falconer herself. After her father’s death, Macdonald decides to reach out to a hawk breeder in Northern Ireland who has one young goshawk left. She plans to drive to fetch the hawk, feeling that it somehow “chose” her. As a child, she was obsessed with birds of prey and fascinated by the archaic world of falconry; in particular, she recalls reading T. H. White’s The Goshawk when she was eight. She writes that she is “haunted” by White and describes his unhappy childhood and troubled adulthood as a teacher, writer, and closeted gay man in 1930s England.

Along with her friend Christina, Macdonald arrives in Scotland, where she has arranged to meet the breeder and pick up the hawk. The breeder has two goshawks with him; one is for another buyer. Macdonald asks if she can have the smaller hawk instead of the one originally intended for her, as she feels an instant connection with her. The breeder is taken aback, but he says yes. Macdonald is nervous the whole drive home, fretting over the hawk in the box. When she brings the hawk into her house perched on her fist, she feels like something missing has returned. That night she dreams of her father as a boy, standing in a London bombsite and pointing at an airplane passing silently overhead.

Over the next few days, Macdonald begins the slow process of teaching the hawk to trust her: she must sit very still and let the hawk adjust to her surroundings. The stillness and silence allows Macdonald time to think about her father, his life, and his death. Macdonald marvels at the beauty of the bird and all her innate reflexes and instincts, and the hawk eats from Macdonald’s fist for the first time—a milestone in falconry—while Macdonald and Christina are watching TV. Macdonald decides to name her hawk Mabel.

While recounting T. H. White’s struggle to tame his own goshawk, Gos, Macdonald experiences some of her own. Overall, she is doing much better than White did, because she has a better understanding of how to train a goshawk with love and patience. Soon, it is time for Macdonald to take Mabel out of the house for the first time and introduce her to new stimuli. This is a stressful process, but over the course of a few days, it becomes easier. Mabel is a fast...

(The entire section contains 1380 words.)

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