Pigeon English


Stephen Kelman

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Pigeons Symbol Icon

As is indicated by the title, pigeons are the most important symbol in the novel, representing freedom from oppression and prejudice. Part of the reason why pigeons are so significant is because of the parallels the novel establishes between pigeons and people, and especially immigrants like Harri. One of the connections between the two groups is the theme of flight, with a parallel drawn between the flight of pigeons and the migration of people. Harri loves to spread his wings in the windy area at the bottom of his tower block and pretend he is flying like a bird, which illustrates his desire for freedom. When Auntie Sonia has to leave in order to escape from Julius, Harri draws a pigeon on her cast, implicitly hoping to bestow the freedom of pigeons onto her. Harri adores pigeons, but that makes him unusual in the world of the novel. Other people, such as Mamma and Lydia, don’t like them and want to keep them away using pigeon nets. This is partly due to the perception that pigeons are germ-ridden and dirty. As the racist character Vilis shows, some people claim that the same false stereotype is true of African immigrants. Harri’s embrace of pigeons thus demonstrates his open-minded, loving nature and, in particular, his willingness to put aside prejudice. This care is reciprocated by Harri’s “special pigeon,” a mystical figure who serves as a kind of guardian angel to Harri. In a series of philosophical reflections, the pigeon imparts wisdom, and at several points rescues Harri from danger and teaches him to act with integrity. When Harri is stabbed at the end of the novel, the pigeon is the only character present and assures Harri that he will soon be going “home.” The pigeon thus conveys that there is more to both people and pigeons than meets the eye, but that this truth can be obscured by prejudice. 

Pigeons Quotes in Pigeon English

The Pigeon English quotes below all refer to the symbol of Pigeons. For each quote, you can also see the other characters and themes related to it (each theme is indicated by its own dot and icon, like this one:
Home and the Immigrant Experience Theme Icon
). Note: all page numbers and citation info for the quotes below refer to the Bloomsbury edition of Pigeon English published in 2011.
March Quotes

I live in Copenhagen House. My flat is on floor 9 out of 14. It's not even hutious. I can look from the window now and my belly doesn't even turn over.

I love going in the lift, it's brutal, especially when you're the only one in there. Then you could be a spirit or a spy. You even forget the pissy smell because you're going so fast.

It's proper windy at the bottom like a whirlpool. If you stand at the bottom where the tower meets the ground and put your arms out, you can pretend like you're a bird. You can feel the wind try to pick you up, it's nearly like flying.

Related Characters: Harrison Opoku (Harri) (speaker)
Related Symbols: Pigeons
Page Number: 5
Explanation and Analysis:
May Quotes

I just wanted to get your attention, Harri, get you out of another mess. I'm trying to help you while I still can, I'm trying my best but there's only so much I can do from here […] Home will always find you if you walk true and taller than those weeds. You can be a tree, you can be as big as you want to be.

Related Characters: Harrison Opoku (Harri)
Related Symbols: Pigeons
Page Number: 119
Explanation and Analysis:
June Quotes

I wonder what Heaven is really like. Is it different for kids than for grown-ups. Like would there still be somebody there telling him to come in

from playing football when it got too dark. The dead boy could do the most tricks, he could flick the ball up with his heel and keep it up for donkey hours with both feet. He always aimed his shots for the corners like you're supposed

to and he was even good at heading. He was good at everything. I wonder if there's dogs like Asbo who steal your ball. That would be funny. I hope in Heaven the animals can all talk, then they can tell you when they're happy so

you don't have to guess. You can usually tell from the eyes but it only works on bigger animals, not pigeons or flies. Their eyes only look sad.

Related Characters: Harrison Opoku (Harri) (speaker), The Dead Boy
Related Symbols: Pigeons, Heaven
Page Number: 169
Explanation and Analysis:

If Agnes dies I'll just swap places with her. She can have my life. I'll give it to her and I'll die instead. I wouldn't mind because I've already lived for a long time. Agnes has only lived for one year and some. I hope God lets me. I don't

mind going to Heaven early. If he wants me to swap places, I will. I just hope I can try Haribo Horror Mix first (they're my favourite of all the Haribo styles. The sweets are all crazy shapes, like bats and spiders and ghosts. Mamma says it's against God but she just worries too much).

Related Characters: Harrison Opoku (Harri) (speaker), Agnes
Related Symbols: Pigeons, Heaven
Page Number: 171
Explanation and Analysis:
July Quotes

I ran fast. I ran down the hill and through the tunnel. I shouted:

Me: 'Poppy I love you!'

It made a mighty echo. Nobody else heard it.

I ran past the real church. I ran past the cross.

I ran past the Jubilee.

I ran past the CCTV camera. I let it snap me for luck.

I ran past the other pigeons. I pretended they called hello to me.

Me: 'Pigeons I love you!'

It didn't even feel stupid, it felt brilliant. I ran past the playground and the dead climbing frame. I was running superfast. I was going faster than I've ever gone, my feet were just a blur. Nobody could ever catch me, I was going

to break the world record.

Related Characters: Harrison Opoku (Harri) (speaker), Poppy Morgan
Related Symbols: Pigeons
Page Number: 261
Explanation and Analysis:

Pigeon: 'Don't worry, you'll be going home soon. When it's time to go I'll show you the way.'

Me: 'Can't I stay here?'

Pigeon: 'It's not up to me. You've been called home.'

Me: 'It hurts. Do you work for God?'

Pigeon: 'I'm sorry if it hurts. It won't be long now.'

Me: 'I like your feet. They're nice and scratchy. I like all your colours.'

Pigeon: 'Thank you. I like you too, I always did. There's nothing to be scared of.'

Related Characters: Harrison Opoku (Harri) (speaker)
Related Symbols: Pigeons, Heaven
Page Number: 263
Explanation and Analysis:
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