Chapters 3–4 Summary

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Last Updated on August 19, 2020, by eNotes Editorial. Word Count: 1261

Chapter 3: Small Worlds

Macdonald was twelve years old when she first saw falconers at work. She describes tagging along one morning with several older men who were experienced falconers as they hunted with their hawks; she remembers watching a goshawk kill a pheasant, and the visceral intensity of it. The falconers let their goshawks fly free and eventually disappear into the trees, trusting that their birds would eventually return to them.

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When she first became a falconer herself, Macdonald flew falcons and never considered flying a goshawk. Falcons had long been the favored bird of the British nobility and upper classes, and all the falconry books Macdonald had read praised falcons while deriding hawks. Goshawks in particular were seen as common, bad-tempered, and aggressive, possessing none of the elegance and aristocratic bearing of the falcon. A fellow falconer once told her that the secret to training a goshawk was teaching it—and encouraging it—to “kill things as much as possible.” As a younger falconer, Macdonald felt strongly that goshawks didn’t suit her personality or her tastes. But the world has changed, and Macdonald has changed too; she wonders about the possibility of training a goshawk.

The end of July is approaching. Macdonald is beginning to feel a bit more numb to her grief, although she still feels “off,” alienated from the world and other people. After some research, she finds a goshawk breeder in Northern Ireland who has one young goshawk left: it is a small bird, a mix of Czech, Finnish, and German breeding. She decides she will drive to Scotland to fetch it, sensing that the bird has chosen her.

As the rains dissipate and heat moves in, Macdonald pays her friend Stuart a visit; he is an experienced falconer, and she wants to discuss goshawks with him. Macdonald loves Stuart and his partner, Mandy, and she feels relieved to see them at the barbecue the couple are hosting. Stuart is shocked at Macdonald’s decision to train a goshawk, telling her that his experience of flying a goshawk was a “nightmare” and offering Macdonald his own peregrine falcon instead. Macdonald seriously considers the offer for a moment, admiring the beauty of the falcon, but her mind is made up.

In the days before Macdonald goes to pick up the goshawk, she begins to revisit T. H. White’s book The Goshawk. A copy of it sits on the shelf near her desk and keeps catching her eye, but she looks away. She doesn't want to think about the book. As a child, Macdonald says, she was awkward, shy, and obsessed with birds of prey. When reciting the Lord’s Prayer at school, for a time she replaced “Our Father” with “Dear Horus.” She decided she would be a falconer when she grew up. Macdonald read all the books about falconry she and her father could find, absorbing both practical—if arcane—knowledge and the worldviews of the authors, who were almost all aristocratic British men; she remembers telling her mother all kinds of minute details about falconry. Her mother kindly feigned interest.

At age eight, Macdonald read The Goshawk and was angered by it because of White’s ignorant and misguided falconry practices. But while she disliked White and his book, she “revered” White’s goshawk, Gos.

T. H. White is best known as the author of British fantasy epic The Once and Future King, which retells the story of King Arthur. Macdonald recalls meeting a retired U2 pilot who used to read The Once and Future King during his flights. This makes her sad: it is a lonely image. Macdonald realizes now that White’s The Goshawk is more than a book about “bad falconry”; it is also the story of a lonely man engaged in a “metaphysical battle” with an animal. While she is still frustrated with White’s treatment of his hawk, his portrayal of falconry...

(The entire section contains 1261 words.)

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