H Is for Hawk

by Helen Macdonald

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Chapters 13–14 Summary

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Last Updated on June 8, 2022, by eNotes Editorial. Word Count: 1130

Chapter 13: Alice, Falling

At last, White discovered that keeping his hawk hungry would keep Gos obedient. Still, he struggled with Gos, roughly pulling him down from his perch. Gos wouldn’t fly to White no matter how much White pushed him.

Mabel, however, has reached her flying weight. Keeping a hawk at flying weight is a complicated and exact science—it requires a great deal of fussing over calories and daily weighings—but Macdonald believes she has finally gotten Mabel’s weight right. They set out toward the college cricket pitch and stand under a pavilion, where Macdonald looks up at the window of her office. This morning she refused a position at a university in Berlin; she no longer wants a career and can’t imagine the future. She only wants to fly the hawk.

Suddenly, everything around Macdonald begins to feel unreal. There was an Alice in Wonderland–themed ball a couple of months ago, and the campus is still decorated for it. In two months, Macdonald will be unemployed. Her housing at the college will disappear, along with her salary. Everything will change, but everything already has—with her father’s death, and with the presence of the hawk—and Macdonald knows there is no going back. She pictures the scene in which Alice falls down the rabbit hole into Wonderland, taking objects from the shelves as she slowly floats past them. This is how Macdonald feels: as though she has always been falling through her life at Cambridge and is sinking toward the unknown. Since her father died, she has been experiencing these episodes of unreality, of “derealization.”

Shaken but determined to fly the hawk, Macdonald practices standing farther and farther away from Mabel. The hawk flies from the railing of the pavilion directly to Macdonald’s fist; she seems to know exactly what to do, and Macdonald recognizes a feeling she hasn’t experienced in some time: happiness. Later that evening, however, she finds herself crying.

White’s attempts to teach Gos to fly to him continued to be unsuccessful. After an incident in which he forcefully tugged Gos to the ground and ran away when the hawk tried to follow him, White decided to try again. Bbut as the hawk flew toward him, at the last moment, he turned away in fear, causing Gos to miss. But White felt that this was a test of his courage, and finally he stood his ground as Gos flew to him and landed on his fist. That night, White drank heavily to celebrate their victory.

Fifteen days after Mabel’s arrival, Macdonald is invited to an outdoor luncheon with the college Master’s family. She reflects upon the unlikeness of her ending up at Cambridge; her parents were working-class and did not attend university, and her father suggested that she might secretly be at Cambridge as a spy. Thinking of her father and the lives she might have led, Macdonald finds her vision blurring. She begins to feel out of place, as if she was only invited to be the entertainment: the sad woman with the hawk. Wasps buzz around the table, and the lunch begins to feel unreal to Macdonald; the wasps are the only real thing.

T. H. White wrote a satire about the cult of the English gentleman called You Can’t Keep a Good Man Down . At the end of the book, the main character, named Prisonface, meets with a former teacher who seems to embody everything White wished to be. The teacher impresses upon Prisonface the importance of love over “wisdom or manhood.” When Prisonface asks the man for his name, the teacher replies,...

(This entire section contains 1130 words.)

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Chapter 14: The Line

Macdonald recruits Christina to help her fly Mabel longer distances: she needs a second person to hold the hawk. The women complete a successful transfer on the cricket pitch, Mabel flying smoothly from Christina to Macdonald from farther and farther away. Again and again, Mabel completes the flight easily, and once Mabel is able to return to her from fifty yards away, Macdonald will be able to let her fly free, without her jesses. It feels like a miracle every time Mabel lands with a thump on Macdonald’s fist. “There was nothing that was such a salve to my grieving heart as the hawk returning,” she says. “But it was hard, now, to distinguish between my heart and the hawk at all.”

When Mabel flies directly to Macdonald, the world is as it should be; when something goes wrong with Mabel, Macdonald feels that the entire world has gone wrong. After days of successful flights, Mabel begins to ignore Macdonald’s calls. Stuart believes the problem is simply that Macdonald has been feeding Mabel too much rich food, but Macdonald worries that somehow, some kind of trust has been broken between herself and the hawk—that it is personal.

The next day Macdonald watches moorhens run across the pitch and marvels at the “predatory taxonomies” already buried deep in her goshawk’s brain: recently Mabel recognized, and was interested in, illustrations of game birds in a book Macdonald showed her. Suddenly a group of pheasants appears, and Mabel becomes agitated; Macdonald asks Christina to go chase them off. It is a comical situation, and Macdonald struggles to keep the bating goshawk on her fist. A college porter approaches the women, displeased by the ruckus, but Macdonald defuses the situation by cracking a joke.

Macdonald worries that, just like the man she briefly dated after her father’s death, Mabel can sense that there is something wrong with Macdonald and wants nothing more to do with her. In her journal, Macdonald begins not only tracking her progress with Mabel, but expressing mounting anger and frustration with herself and with other people, too.

One day Macdonald goes to a cafe to meet with a former student, a man with whom she conducted research in Central Asia last year. She finds herself awkward, at a loss for words, and unable to make conversation. In a bank across the street from the cafe, a woman takes down a massive window decal of a skylark, scrunches it up, and throws it on the floor, and this makes Macdonald inexplicably angry. She leaves, apologizing and distracted.

Macdonald has been driving her father’s car, and recently, she’s been crashing it constantly. She tries to explain to a friend that it’s because she doesn’t know what shape the car is anymore, or even the dimensions of her own body. Her grief has made her clumsy and accident-prone, though not with Mabel. “When the hawk was on my fist I knew who I was,” Macdonald says; but Mabel’s attempts to fly away make her want to weep.


Chapters 11–12 Summary


Chapters 15–16 Summary