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H is for Hawk

Author: Helen Macdonald

The anthology is about how Macdonald adopts a hawk to distract her from her father’s sudden death. It is written in the first-person narrative, like a monologue, describing the author’s experience firsthand to divert her from her grief as hawks need a lot of attention and care to train. The hawk reflects her experience of mourning.

Summary:

  • The themes of grief and fascina are illustrated in this anthology.

  • The anthology has a fairly informal tone.

  • The author uses language and structure to convey her feelings about adopting the hawk she desires. However, her grief must have disoriented her as she stares into the hawk’s eyes trying to find something.

  • The first two paragraphs build the scene and who she’s buying the hawk from.

  • In the third paragraph, the author uses a variety of linguistic techniques to describe the hawks. The continuous use of linguistic devices such as metaphors, similes and personification, enables the user to understand her and how meticulously she chooses her hawk.

  •  Nonetheless, towards the end, she becomes indecisive and selects the wrong bird. She becomes almost irrational and anxious. ● Her tone towards the end also changes as she becomes aware of how unprofessional she’s being. The tone also indicates that she is aware of the fact that her request was likely to be denied.

  • The anthology ends on a cliffhanger, leaving the reader on edge and begging for more.

➢ “Don’t want you going home with the wrong bird.”- foreshadows the plot twist.

Structure:

  • It is written in chronological order.  

  • “Another hinge untied. Concentration. Infinite caution.”- the use of short sentences here highlights a feeling of suspense. The sentences are used to emphasise surprise and awe.

  • The sentences feel detached in the second paragraph. This may be to build tension. However, it could be to indicate her detached thought process due to the fact that she’s grieving.

  •  “And” in the second paragraph- syndetic listing in the second paragraph helps highlight how overwhelmed the author feels. ● “Enormous, enormous”- repetition and italics adds emphasis.

  • “Two enormous eyes. My heart jumps sideways, she’s a conjuring trick. A reptile. A fallen angel.A griffon from the pages of an illuminated bestiary.” - the short sentences highlight tension. The description is quite hyperbolic.

  • “But now this; and she can see everything: the point-source glitter on the waves, a diving cormorant a hundred yards out; pigment flakes under the wax on the lines of parked cars…”- the colon and listing used to emphasise how diligently she puts herself in the hawk’s position. The extensive listing here is juxtaposing the short sentences used which underlines the overwhelming experience.

  •  “One, two, three,”- the countdown creates tension.

  •  “It was the wrong bird. This was the younger one. The smaller one. This was not my hawk.”- the disjointed pattern of sentences denotes confusion.

  •  “Oh”- the interjection/the single sentence word emphasises her surprise

  •  “This isn’t my hawk”- the quote is italicised and denotes the internal thoughts of the reader.

  •  “Smokier and darker and much, much bigger and instead of twittering, she wailed; great, awful gouts of sound like a thing in pain, and the sound was unbearable”- syndetic listing here emphasises how overwhelmed Macdonald is feeling. The repeated use of conjunction here also reflects on the growing realisation that this wasn’t her hawk. The comparison between the two birds makes the smaller one seem unappealing.

  • “This is my hawk,”- the italicised words used to iterate the author’s feelings. The author’s inner monologue is used in an attempt to convince herself.

  •  “This isn’t my hawk”- the quote is used to compare the birds and how she cannot feel compassion for the second hawk ● “But this isn’t my hawk”-the author is unable to accept this hawk.

  • “Saw something blank and crazy stare. Some madness from a distant country. I didn’t recognise her.”- detachment from the reader. A difference in tone can be noticed here.

  •  “Do you think there’s any chance I could take that one instead…”- the ellipses highlight her hesitation and the awkwardness between them.

  • White-faced woman”- compound words describing her sense of derangement and desperation. She is an emotional wreck and is very frail.

  •  “There was a moment of total silence”- mysterious cliffhanger. The use of suspense here iterates the seriousness of the moment.

Meaning

  •  The author tries to buy the perfect hawk to distract her from her father’s death. The anthology is a first-person narrative of her experience of buying a hawk.

 

Imagery  

  • Academic language is used for imagery and visuality in the scene.

  • “A great flood of sunlight drenches us and everything is brilliance and fury”- pathetic fallacy gives the bird a god-like image and makes the bird seem admirable.

  • “Like gold falling through water”- beautiful imagery

  •  “Like a turkey in a butcher’s shop”- the simile here illustrates the vulnerability of the bird.

  • “Her beak was open, her hackles raised; her wild eyes were the colour of sun on white paper, and they stared because the whole world had fallen into them.”- juxtaposing language- the bird is described as menacing but Macdonald understands that it is because she is new to the world. “The whole world had fallen into them”- metaphorical language.

Language

  • The author uses descriptive language when discussing the hawk while dry legal language is used before.

  •  “Thump”- the onomatopoeia creates tension. The repetition of the word in the second paragraph helps create a tense atmosphere.

  •  “shook”, “as if someone had punched it, hard, from within”- the language used denotes violence and power and also helps create tension. The simile helps emphasise the strength of the bird.

  • “Frowned”- encourages concern.

  • “To keep the hawk from fearful sights. Like us”- ironic as the leather hood over the hawk’s head is supposed to protect the hawk from us. The quote highlights MacDonald’s compassionate nature.

  •  “The last few seconds before battle”- the hyperbole makes the reader on edge in anticipation.

  • “Chaotic clatter”- the alliteration adds emphasis to the moment.

  •  “Barred and beating”- the alliteration/ plosives here highlight the tension

  •  “My heart jumps sideways”- the personification here emphasises tension.

  •  “she’s a conjuring trick”- the metaphor here highlights the hawk’s beauty.

  •  “Her world was an aviary no larger than a living room”- metaphorical language emphasising entrapment of the bird. The author uses juxtaposition here when comparing the world to the aviary.

  •  “Calm,”, “gathered”, “folding”, “anchoring”, gripping” the verbs (list of active clauses) show that he’s in control of the situation. ● “Tautly”, “concern”- the intensity of the moment.

  • “This man had fed her…”- informative language.

  •  “I loved this man and fiercely”- melodrama (hyperbolic language) iterates how reliant MacDonald is on him.

  •  “Fizzing” and “fusing”- the alliteration here highlights the tension.

  • “And dear God, it did”- the expression here denotes fear and shock. It fills the reader with terror.

  •  “Like a Victorian melodrama”- simile

  •  “Saw something blank and crazy stare. Some madness from a distant country. I didn’t recognise her.”- the quote highlights the dangerous nature of the bird.

  •  “Slow panic”- the oxymoron here emphasises her growing realisation and how she feels about the second hawk.

  •  “Monstrous breach of etiquette”- “monstrous” and “etiquette”-the paradox here refers to how she is aware of the fact that she is being unprofessional.

  •  “I started again, saying stupider things”- the grammatical error here underlines her anxiety. She rambles ondetachment from the reader.

  •  “Desperate, crazy barrage of incoherent appeals”- the language used here emphasises her pleading tone. She uses emotive language which evokes pathos.

  • “Wind-wrecked hair”- alliteration.

  •  “Madea”- (ancient greek mythology) emphasising her pleading nature. Her desperation evokes sympathy.

  •  “Sensed”, “stuttered”, “simple” - sibilance reinforces the content. It emphasises that her request is likely to be denied.

  •  “That there was something behind it that was very important”- the quote reminds the reader that to her, the bird means more. It is her only hope of getting over her father’s death.

Effect on the reader

  •  The anthology is written in the first-person narrative and evokes sympathy from the reader. Pathos can be highlighted throughout the anthology.

  •  Academic language is used for imagery and visuality in the scene which engages the reader.

  •  The anthology is easy to comprehend. This may be because the author wants to speak to the need to develop one’s own mechanisms for coping with life’s difficulties.

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