Pigeon English

by

Stephen Kelman

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Pigeon English: July Summary & Analysis

Summary
Analysis
Harri describes what he has learned about the different parts of the body and their functions in science class. Connor Green makes lewd jokes, but Mr. Tomlin’s jokes are funnier. Eventually, Mr. Tomlin sends Connor Green out of the classroom. After school, Harri brings his remote-control car to Jordan’s flat and Jordan begs to have a go. Harri enjoys watching him get increasingly desperate, before abruptly telling him that he has to go inside for dinner and returning to his own flat. Harri concludes: “Now I’m the winner forever.”
This is one of the passages in which Harri seems most like a child. His usual capacity for kindness and empathy is diminished by his desire to show off and “win” against Jordan. Harri knows that it will probably make Jordan frustrated and jealous to see his car and not be able to play with it, and this is exactly the reaction Harri seeks.
Themes
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Miquita puts on cherry lipstick, preparing to teach Harri how to kiss. Harri reasons that if he is a good kisser, then Poppy will never break up with him. Lydia laughs as Harri makes himself still, preparing to be kissed. Harri is surprised by how soft it is, but then exclaims in horror when Miquita puts her tongue in. Lydia objects that Harri’s only in Year 7 so doesn’t need to know about tongues, but Miquita responds by asking if she wants her brother to become a batty boy. Harri finds Miquita’s tongue “disgusting.” Miquita grabs Harri’s hand and puts it down her pants, forcing his fingers to touch her vagina. Harri feels nauseous, and Lydia shouts for her to stop. Eventually Harri pushes her off. 
This is one of the most disturbing passages in the novel, as it depicts Harri being sexually assaulted by Miquita. While he does consent to her teaching him how to kiss, Harri protests when she starts to use tongues, and he tries to escape as she forces him to touch her vagina. Miquita’s cruel recklessness is facilitated by the fact that the sexual assault of boys by girls is something rarely discussed. As a boy, Harri is not given the opportunity to refuse sex. 
Themes
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Masculinity, Violence, and Death Theme Icon
Harri calls Miquita a “stupid bitch” and Lydia tells her to leave him alone. When Miquita responds that Lydia is “f—cking lame,” Lydia says, “At least my boyfriend’s not a murderer.” Everyone goes quiet. Eventually Lydia tells Miquita that she shouldn’t let Killa burn her hands with the lighter, calling her “weak.” Miquita boasts that she can’t be weak after how she beat Chanelle. Miquita leaves, and Harri locks the door behind her. He gets a fresh pack of Oreos from Mamma’s secret drawer and lets Lydia have the first one.
Lydia and Miquita’s argument demonstrates that girls also face pressure to seem tough in front of each other. Lydia calling Miquita “weak” seems to be one of the worst insults she can think of, and it becomes clear that Miquita’s fight with Chanelle was indeed a kind of performance intended to demonstrate that she—like the boys—is tough and intimidating.
Themes
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The narrative switches back to the perspective of the pigeon, who describes being attacked by magpies and worrying that it is “mortal after all.” It wonders, “If I’m not here who looks after the boy?” Harri then describes chasing the magpies away and asking if the pigeon is alright. The pigeon calls Harri a “good boy,” and thanks him for rescuing it. 
The pigeon is not just Harri’s guardian angel; their relationship is, in fact, reciprocal, with both of them looking out for one another. This reciprocity indicates that it is possible to be both vulnerable and strong at the same time, giving and receiving help. 
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Regretful about what happened with Miquita, Harri gives Poppy a jelly ring. The couple walks past Clipz, who asks if Harri has “shagged” Poppy yet, but Harri ignores him. On Sports Day, Harri wins first place in his race. He is now officially “the fastest in Year 7.” Everyone shakes his hand, and he feels like “the king.” He feels like he has a magical spell that means no one can touch him, he and wishes “every day was just like this.”
Once again, Harri struggles to retain his carefree innocence in the face of pressures to grow up and display (what is thought to be) proper “manly” behavior. Harri does not fantasize about having sex with Poppy and bragging about it to others. Instead, he is focused on more age-appropriate achievements, such as winning the Sports Day race.
Themes
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Auntie Sonia is going on a boat to hide from Julius. She apologizes to Mamma for telling her about Julius, but Mamma says she has no regrets because otherwise she would have never made it to England. She did it for Harri and Lydia, and as long as she pays off her debt, everything will be fine. Auntie Sonia is letting her fingerprints grow back, and Mamma is happy. Mamma tells her, “You can’t keep running forever.” Auntie Sonia prays that she doesn’t end up in a jail in Libya again. Her leg is in a cast, and Harri assumes that Julius did it with his baseball bat, “the Persuader.” Harri draws a pigeon on the cast for “good luck.” 
Harri’s drawing of the pigeon on Auntie Sonia’s cast is symbolically significant. Pigeons have the natural freedom to fly around, and—like many other birds—some migrate. In this way, there is a parallel between the pigeon’s freedom and Sonia’s desire to move around without settling down. Furthermore, just as pigeons are treated poorly by humans, Sonia has been beaten by Julius and risks confinement in a Libyan jail. 
Themes
Home and the Immigrant Experience Theme Icon
Innocence vs. Guilt Theme Icon
Pluralism vs. Prejudice Theme Icon
Masculinity, Violence, and Death Theme Icon
Someone has carved the word “DEAD” into the door of Harri’s flat. Harri tells Mamma it was probably a junkie but secretly thinks it was Jordan doing it as a joke. At school, Altaf and Harri discuss superheroes again. Altaf confesses that his father died in a war. Harri likes the idea of being born “normal” and then gaining a superpower, but he swears that if he were a superhero, he wouldn’t wear a costume because they “look gay.”
The kids in Harri’s community often treat war and violence as a joke or game. At the same time, for characters like Altaf, the truth of war is all too real. The fact that Altaf’s father died in a war highlights that the reality of war is actually all around Harri.
Themes
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Innocence vs. Guilt Theme Icon
Pluralism vs. Prejudice Theme Icon
Masculinity, Violence, and Death Theme Icon
Harri is extremely excited for the summer holiday. He is going to go to the zoo, and by that time, Papa, Agnes, and Grandma Ama will be in London. In the summer, Harri also wants to go on a long bike ride around the city with Dean. Harri secretly borrows Lydia’s phone to try to catch the dead boy’s spirit, which Harri thinks will still be lingering around the places that the boy loved. Harri holds the picture of the dead boy and says a prayer to try to summon the spirit. Harri remembers how good the dead boy was at basketball, and how he would never let X-Fire and Killa push him around. The dead boy “wasn’t scared of anything.” Harri remembers a fight between the dead boy, X-Fire, and Killa, in which the dead boy spat water all over Killa’s back. After that, Harri knew the boy was going to be killed.
Right at the end of the novel, Harri provides details that shed some light on why the dead boy might have been killed. Harri’s memory of the dead boy’s boldness and his fight with X-Fire and Killa points back to Miquita’s statement that the boy was killed for “fronting,” or acting tough and confrontational. In the world of the novel, showing respect to those who are considered be tougher and more powerful than you is a matter of life and death. 
Themes
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Innocence vs. Guilt Theme Icon
Language, Culture, and Norms Theme Icon
Masculinity, Violence, and Death Theme Icon
X-Fire and Dizzy approach Dean and Harri and ask what they are doing. Killa and Miquita are there too. Harri drops Lydia’s phone to hide it. Dizzy tells them they are trespassing and makes them pay a “tax.” Dean only has sixty-three pence, so Dizzy takes Dean’s running shoes as well. Dizzy reaches into Harri’s pocket and finds the wallet with the dead boy’s picture in it. Realizing there is no money inside, Dizzy throws the wallet on the floor, and as he does, the picture falls out. As Killa picks up the picture, Miquita tries to tell him that it’s not a big deal, but Killa pushes her against the fence. X-Fire advises Killa to just “get rid of it.” Killa runs away, looking like he is about to cry. X-Fire burns the picture with a lighter. 
Throughout the novel, it is unclear whether Killa’s silence and sadness is a sign of sympathy, regret, or fear of the consequences of someone finding out that he killed the boy—if, of course, he was the murderer. However, the fact that his reaction to the picture is so different from the rest of the Dell Farm Crew suggests that he does bear a unique responsibility for the death of the boy. Is his sadness in this scene the final piece of evidence Dean and Harri need to conclude that he is the murderer?
Themes
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Language, Culture, and Norms Theme Icon
Masculinity, Violence, and Death Theme Icon
Dizzy and X-Fire corner Harri and Dean. X-Fire reaches into his pants, and Harri knows he is retrieving his “war knife.” Harri looks up and sees the pigeon and begs it to save them. Suddenly, Harri hears Lydia shout, “Get away from him! I called the police!” Lydia has been filming the whole interaction on her phone, which she must have picked up when Harri dropped it. Dizzy starts to chase Lydia, but she, Harri, and Dean manage to escape into the library. Lydia shows Harri and Dean the video, which shows Killa looking sad and X-Fire burning the picture of the dead boy. Lydia emails the video to Abena to keep it safe.
Throughout the novel, it remains ambiguous whether Harri’s belief that the pigeon is looking out for him is actually true. Perhaps the pigeon does possess some magical power that enables it to send Lydia to rescue Harri. On the other hand, perhaps the pigeon’s consciousness and powers are all part of Harri’s vibrant imagination and are only “real” insofar as he believes them to be.
Themes
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The pigeon says that it wanted to do more to save Harri, but it was “not my place.” The pigeon quotes “the Boss,” who says that humans are just meat wrapped around a star. When the meat dies, you must celebrate “the freeing of the star,” which returns to its “rightful place.”
At this point, the pigeon speaks as if it is working on behalf of God or some other higher being. The implication of this speech is that humans have immortal, celestial souls that outlive their mortal bodies.
Themes
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Connor Green boasts that he knows who killed the dead boy. He claims that he was driving past when he saw the boy being stabbed. He then saw Jermaine Bent running away with a knife. Someone asks why Connor didn’t tell the police, and Connor replies that he didn’t want to get stabbed. Everyone teases Connor for claiming that the car he was driving in was his brother’s BMW, because they know his brother can’t afford one. However, Harri is in shock. Jermaine Bent is Killa’s real name.
This passage contains a dramatic and surprising twist. Up until this point, Connor has always been represented as a liar and a fool, and in this passage, his boast about his brother’s BMW is taken as proof that the tale he is telling is a lie. However, the fact that he identifies Killa as the murderer suggests that he may, for once, be telling the truth—at least about the identity of the murderer.
Themes
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In PE, Harri plays a game called rounders, which he hates. Inspired by Altaf’s suggestion, Harri sneaks away through a hole in the fence into a forest behind school. He bites an apple from the apple tree, believing that this will give him superpowers. Even though they are disgusting, Harri eats two of them. Feeling awful, he forces himself to return to the game of rounders and tells his PE teacher that he is feeling ill. He is allowed to sit out the rest of the game.
Harri continues to encounter difficulties in adjusting to English culture, seen in his hatred of rounders, which is a bat-and-ball game played in the UK that is somewhat similar to baseball. In addition, his decision to eat the apples, despite how disgusting he finds them, suggests that he is feels pressure to become a “hero” no matter the cost. 
Themes
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Language, Culture, and Norms Theme Icon
Pluralism vs. Prejudice Theme Icon
Someone has set the playground by Harri’s tower block on fire. As the assembled adults grumble about the kids who must have done it, Harri is comforted by the feeling that everyone standing with him is on the “same side.” The firemen arrive, and some of the smaller kids try to help them lift the hose. Once the playground has been hosed down, it looks “dirty and dead.” Harri sees Killa standing by himself. Killa picks up one of the hot woodchips and squeezes it in his hand so that it burns him. Harri observes that Killa “was even loving it.” Killa looks as sad as Harri.
Again, Killa displays signs of misery, guilt, and regret. Harri’s perception that Killa is “even loving it” while he causes himself pain by burning himself is a misunderstanding. Killa likely wants to hurt himself as a form of punishment, not because he enjoys it. His squeezing of the woodchip connects him to Auntie Sonia, who burns her fingertips on purpose.
Themes
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Masculinity, Violence, and Death Theme Icon
On the last day of school, Lydia, Dean, and Harri walk to school together to stay safe. It’s hot, and everyone is happy. All the Year 11 kids write on each other’s shirts for good luck. For them, school is “finished forever.” Harri can’t wait to participate in the tradition of writing on shirts. Some people write “Good Luck” or “One Love,” some people just write their names, and some write jokes like “See you at the job centre,” or “Don’t pay tax, sell drugs instead.” At the end of the day, everyone runs out of the school, ignoring the rule about running on the stairs. It feels like a “race for the future.” 
Considering what happens to Harri at the end of the novel, the last day of school is shrouded in tragic irony. All the kids in Year 11 are looking excitedly toward the future, even though the fact that they are growing up in a poor, violent community—and seemingly not going on to pursue further education—suggests that their lives might become even more difficult in the years to come. 
Themes
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Poppy and Harri hold hands at the school gate. Harri feels frightened by how beautiful she is. Poppy says she’s going to Spain for two weeks  but reassures him that she is coming back to school. Harri wants to tell her he loves her, but “it felt too big.” Poppy asks him to text her and gives him her number, then kisses him. It feels “lovely,” nothing like it did with Miquita. Poppy’s mom is waiting, and Poppy gets into the car. She waves through the window, and Harri waves back. The taste of Poppy’s lips on his feels like “a superpower.”
In this passage, Harri once again realizes that the feeling of superpowers does not have to come from actual fantastic abilities. Instead, it can arise in perfectly ordinary moments in daily life, such as winning the Sports Day race or kissing Poppy. Again, Harri is shown to have a wonderful, childlike capacity to find joy in the simple aspects of life.
Themes
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Harri and Dean have been preparing to tell the police that Killa is the murderer. They plan to tell their mothers first so that the police are more likely to believe them. The two boys speculate over whether the police will torture Killa during his interrogation. Harri runs down the hill, telling himself that if he gets home in seven minutes, Poppy will stay with him, and he will “solve the case.” As he runs, he shouts out “Poppy I love you!” He feels like he is running the fastest he’s ever ran and shouts out, “Tree I love you!” He runs through the tunnel and yells, creating the “best echo ever.” He thinks about the big glass of water he’s going to drink when he gets home.
This passage emphasizes Harri’s childlike, carefree joy. As he has mentioned previously in the novel, he feels an overwhelming love for the world around him—not just for Poppy, but even for things like the tunnel and the trees. In the context of a world marred by cruelty, bullying, conflict, and violence, Harri’s capacity for love and happiness seems even more remarkable. 
Themes
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Related Quotes
When Harri is almost home, he describes an unnamed boy coming “out of nowhere.” The boy had been waiting for Harri, and Harri can tell from the boy’s eyes what he is about to do. The boy bumps into Harri and then runs away. Harri can smell his own urine and thinks that he doesn’t want to die. He whispers, “Mamma.” He can taste metal. The pigeon arrives and assures him that Harri will be “going home soon.” Harri asks if the pigeon works for God, but the pigeon doesn’t reply. Harri tells the pigeon to tell Agnes the story about the fake leg, and the pigeon promises that it will. Harri can see the blood and can’t keep his eyes open. He wants to remember Agnes’ face, but eventually it fades, because “all babies look the same.”
The plot of the novel comes full circle, when—at Harri’s happiest moment—he is fatally stabbed by an unknown attacker (assumedly Killa or another member of the Dell Farm Crew). Despite being harmless, joyful, and full of love, Harri is still targeted and killed, a fact that highlights the true devastation of the knife crime epidemic. Harri’s thoughts about Agnes and the pigeon in his final moments illustrate just how innocent and childlike he is—still a “baby” himself at the moment of his death.
Themes
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