Our Little Bird, and the Nest He Comes from

The end of summer is such a bittersweet time, especially for our little birds, Dante and Ari. Excuse the comparison to birds, I know that the presence of birds in this novel is quite pervasive. Ironically, it was a bird, a symbol of freedom, that caused Ari to spend the end of his summer confined in a cast. Not that Ari was much of a ‘sporty’ person to begin with. Once again presented with the opportunity to stay inside (post-flu), Ari takes to reading the books Dante gave him. Just like in Fun Home, Ari uses literature as a way to bond with his father. Though Ari finds discomfort in his father’s silence, his father still tries to connect with Ari by visiting every evening and reading War and Peace (part 3, ch 5). This attempt at connection through literature feels more authentic than the other parent/child relationships we’ve observed thus far (ahem… Fun Home).

Though Ari is technically a teen, it’s important to remember that he is very young and immature – two traits that are common for fifteen year olds. He is growing and finding himself, awkward and stubborn (again, traits not uncommon for kids his age), and he grows impatient with his father’s silence. Throughout the novel, he is not quiet about his confusion for how his wonderful, kind mother fell in love with his cold, silent father. Everyone vaguely attributes his silence to the Vietnam war, but no one knows exactly what happened. Let’s take some time to reflect on the Vietnam war   and PTSD  so we can understand his father a little better. It’s easy to look at the numbers of death and injured soldiers from a chart, but when those large numbers are connected to human lives, one can begin to understand how traumatizing war can be.

For those who drafted or volunteered in the war, the risk for developing Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder, increases immensely. Exposure to violence at such an intense level can be incredibly detrimental to the human psyche, and treatments help alleviate the symptoms and pain associated with PTSD. What happens when someone who suffers from PTSD isn’t given proper treatment? Those who experience PTSD can learn how to cope with SSRIs (selective serotonin reuptake inhibitors) as anti-depressant medication, participate in cognitive behavioral therapy, or even partake in family therapy. I wonder if Ari’s father participated in these coping methods, and if that is possibly part of the reason why his father rarely speaks to Ari. There seems to be a lot that goes unsaid in Ari’s family, and I’d like to dive into these details even more to understand their family dynamic more than we do now.

Food for thought:

  1. Birds come up quite often in this novel; what do you think the sparrow symbolizes in the context of this book? What is the connection to the bird with the broken wing and the events that occur after the car crash that hurt Ari and Dante?
  2. What do you think of Ari’s dad’s silence? What do you think of their family dynamic in general?
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One thought on “Our Little Bird, and the Nest He Comes from

  1. We talked a little bit in class about birds and how often they were used as a tired and trite symbol of freedom. the fact that both of the birds in the novel were injured kind of reflected, arguably, Ari, as he was unable to come to terms with and be “free” in his own sexuality and with his own emotion. I think that we also however really discussed contextualizing this for the audience. For younger readers, the symbol of the bird could absolutely be resonant.
    I also think that the family dynamic is interesting and I liked the analysis of his father having PTSD. I also think that it has to do with culture as well, and if I’m not mistaken, we discussed the trope of the stoic father figure. I think that it’s nice to kind of subvert the coldness of this figure though with the ending of the novel when Ari’s parents do indeed accept him.

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