H Is for Hawk

by Helen Macdonald

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Chapters 15–16 Summary

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Last Updated on June 8, 2022, by eNotes Editorial. Word Count: 779

Chapter 15: For Whom the Bell

With Stuart’s help, Macdonald affixes a small bell to Mabel’s tail feathers. Mabel will also wear a tiny radio transmitter. Still, Macdonald is terrified of losing the hawk. On the village playing fields, she watches as Mabel flies straight past her and doesn’t touch the food on her glove. Stuart says that Mabel just needs to lose weight and that nothing else is wrong; he offers to take the two of them out with him and his own hawk tomorrow. Laying aside her previous conception of herself as an expert falconer, Macdonald gratefully accepts Stuart’s help.

In his diary, White wrote, “Need to excel in order to be loved.” Macdonald considers the unspoken assumptions in the phrase—what if even in your success you are still unloved, unloveable? Achieving success in something creates vulnerability, because when you become an expert, you also become the target of judgment. Terrified by his recent successes with Gos and the idea of other falconers criticizing him and his book, White began to self-sabotage.

Macdonald accompanies Stuart to a field outside the city, and Mabel flies poorly again. Stuart insists that she still just needs to lose a bit of weight, but Macdonald remains worried. Before they leave for home, Stuart and Macdonald stop to admire a beautiful sight: countless threads of spider silk revealed by the last rays of the sun, covering the field. It reminds Macdonald of a strange evening during her research trip to Uzbekistan last year, when she witnessed tiny spiders sailing through the air on silken squiggles.

The next day Macdonald takes the train to London, leaving Mabel behind. She meets the canon, her mother, her brother, and her father’s editor at a church, where they plan a memorial service for her father being given by his colleagues at the newspaper. Macdonald contemplates the absurdity of the “offices of death,” the service programs and themed coffins. On the train home, Macdonald misses her father terribly. She remembers the spider silk in the field, how she walked over it without knowing it was there, and it occurs to Macdonald that the “bareness and wrongness of the world” that she feels might be illusory—that “things might still be real, and right, and beautiful.”

When Macdonald and Stuart return to the hill, Macdonald admits to Stuart that she’s been feeling depressed, though she doesn’t describe the details. Exhausted and hopeless, she thinks of going home, but when she unhoods Mabel, Stuart remarks that the hawk has reached her flying weight. This time Mabel flies right to Macdonald, “like a promise finally kept.”

Macdonald wonders if by confessing her feelings to Stuart and experiencing some relief, she has made herself more inviting to Mabel. For the hawk’s sake, she resolves to try harder to be happy.

Chapter 16: Rain

Hoping to catch one of the hawks in Three Parks Wood, White began building a trap. He remembered a nightmare he used to have about being chased down by “thugs” and attempting to escape via an airplane whose flight path was blocked by telephone wires. White was unsure what the hawks in the Wood were—he thought they might be sparrowhawks. Actually, Macdonald writes, they were hobbies, a species of falcon rarely seen in the 1930s. Macdonald suggests that White’s search for a new hawk was a test of Gos’s love and says that as a child, this part of the book particularly upset her.

One day, White left Gos out on the railing of the well while he ran across the field to talk to a neighbor. Gos flew into a nearby tree, climbing higher and higher. When White returned, Gos didn’t want to come back down, and a terrible struggle ensued. White pulled on the creance, and eventually Gos was hanging upside down and tangled in his jesses, exhausted. When White finally dragged Gos to the ground, he was angry with the hawk and sensed the hawk was angry with him as well.

Macdonald anxiously awaits an opportunity to drive to the hill and fly Mabel free for the first time, but summer storms come to Cambridge, and instead Macdonald takes Mabel to the park to fly. It is good exercise for the hawk, and people in the park like to watch them. Then Macdonald catches a fever and is forced to stay at home. She starts packing up her house at the college, though she is unsure where she will live next. As she packs, she builds herself a small fort out of boxes and crawls inside it, fearing that she might be going mad.

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Chapters 13–14 Summary


Chapters 17–18 Summary