The eccentric old man in Flight (Doris Lessing): An analysis
Doris Lessing’s "Flight" is a short story revolving around an old man and his learning of accepting in life. The author, however, does not let her readers know much about the old man, especially in the sphere of physical appearance. Even his name is not known to the readers. Doris Lessing, alternatively, aims to steer her readers to centre on the old man’s inner feelings, i.e. his weird mood and his consequent eccentric behaviors. A close and careful analysis is essential for us to somehow get a reasonable explanation about his eccentricities.
The old man keeps pigeons and considers the dovecote his refuge. These little birds are seemingly his only pleasure in life, for all of his three grand daughters have gone with their husbands, leaving him with his daughter Lucy and the young Alice. Because Alice is the last grand daughter to stay with him, and because she is going to get married, he feels possessive towards her. Never does he want her to leave as do her sisters. He always wants to keep her, to have control on her, and to never let her leave, for fear that she will never come back to him, like the way he prevents his favorite pigeon from flying back to the sky. He keeps on considering Alice as still a child and on objecting her courtship with Steven the postmaster’s son. This possessive and somewhat selfish attitude has led to his unconventional behaviors. Miserably and angrily he shouts at her, asking her old-fashioned phrases stating his objection to her future marriage, and eventually threatening to tell her mother when she disobeys him. How childish it is for such an old man, not to mention his being her grandfather, to behave like this! Moreover, how can a grandfather be jealous of his grand daughter’s boyfriend? Jealousy, possessiveness and selfishness have blinded him!
The old man seems to isolate himself from everyone with his own way of thinking, which is considerably different from that of his daughter Lucy and of course, that of the young Alice. He expects Lucy, his daughter, to be on the same side with him, yet to his grief, the mother shows no objection to her daughter’s forthcoming marriage. He feels lost, and weeps eventually. Those are tears of anger, sadness and even of the fear of loneliness, for Lucy is his only hope to stand to his side. Tears shed on him again, though implicitly depicted, when he watches the young couple “tumbling like puppies on the grass”, after Steven has given him a bird as a gift. These, however, are tears of tolerance and acceptance, as he realizes the fact that Alice needs to fly and have her own life. He cannot keep her beside him forever. Then he comes to a tough decision: releasing his favorite. Though having “clenched in the pain of loss”, he manages to let the bird soar.
Flight is written in third person, but most of the time it is told through the old man’s point of view. Doris makes it this way deliberately for the readers to get the clearest view of the old man’s mood, which keeps shifting from the beginning to the very end of the story. It makes us know how his mood has changed from being very happy with his favorite when the story begins to being extremely angry and resentful when seeing his granddaughter waiting for her husband-to-be. It also helps us know how he feels hurt and how his pride is wounded when everyone is against him. With this skillful technique and her great talent in utilizing symbolism, Doris Lessing has made the story a successful one, which leads readers to explore the world of inside heart feelings.