Pigeon English


Stephen Kelman

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Masculinity, Violence, and Death Theme Analysis

Themes and Colors
Home and the Immigrant Experience Theme Icon
Innocence vs. Guilt Theme Icon
Language, Culture, and Norms Theme Icon
Pluralism vs. Prejudice Theme Icon
Masculinity, Violence, and Death Theme Icon
LitCharts assigns a color and icon to each theme in Pigeon English, which you can use to track the themes throughout the work.
Masculinity, Violence, and Death Theme Icon

Pigeon English is a coming-of-age novel, but it also specifically deals with the challenges of being a boy—and particularly a young black boy living in a tough, violent community. Although Harri does not have a personal inclination toward violence, throughout the novel he faces pressure from the Dell Farm Crew to prove himself as a man by harming others. To X-Fire and his gang, inflicting violence is a cool, boast-worthy pursuit. This is made clear from the beginning of the novel when X-Fire brags about what it is like to “chook” (stab) someone. In the context of this community, being a man becomes synonymous with inflicting violence. Thus, even as Harri tries to avoid violence and death, his status as an adolescent boy traps him in a cycle of violence that ultimately leads to his own death.

Throughout the novel, the Dell Farm Crew seems to commit violence for no reason. They violently rob other children, even when they know that these children don’t have anything of value—when they rob Dean, for example, they only find sixty-three pence in his pockets. They smash the windows of Harri’s family’s church and smear a Snickers bar on the walls, trying to make it look like human feces. The Dell Farm Crew even robs the elderly Mr. Frimpong and stomp on his groceries as he struggles to get up. All of these acts demonstrate that the Dell Farm Crew embraces violence for its own sake. At the same time, the pressure that the Dell Farm Crew puts on Harri also shows that they participate in violence as a way of continually proving their own masculinity and avoiding seeming weak. In the tough world in which they live, appearing weak can mean—as it does in Harri’s case—being killed.

It is important to note that it is not just male characters who commit violence in the novel. At school, Miquita and Chanelle get into a fight, and before the teachers arrive to break it up, it seems as if Miquita intends to kill Chanelle by pushing her through a window. Later, Harri observes that, as Killa’s girlfriend, Miquita was Killa’s “accomplice” in the dead boy’s murder. When Miquita burns Lydia’s face with a hair straightener in order to make her keep quiet about the murder, it echoes Killa’s habit of burning Miquita’s hands with a lighter. While girls participate in violence, it is clear that the culture of violence that the characters live in is created and perpetuated by the demands of masculinity. All of the characters are forced to uphold the masculine traits of toughness and ruthlessness in order to protect themselves.

This culture of violence means that life is treated as disposable and death is ever-present. It is significant that the novel begins and ends with the deaths of two young boys, as it evokes a cycle of violence and death. Although there is a degree of sadness surrounding the murder of the dead boy, several characters brush it off, like when Miquita suggests that the boy had it coming. Harri’s mission to find the dead boy’s killer indicates that he is refusing to view the boy’s life as disposable. In vowing to bring the boy’s killer to justice, Harri attempts to honor the boy’s life. Tragically, it is this mission that leads Harri to be stabbed and killed—a turn of events that proves how difficult it is to escape the cycle of violence and death. 

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Masculinity, Violence, and Death ThemeTracker

The ThemeTracker below shows where, and to what degree, the theme of Masculinity, Violence, and Death appears in each chapter of Pigeon English. Click or tap on any chapter to read its Summary & Analysis.
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Masculinity, Violence, and Death Quotes in Pigeon English

Below you will find the important quotes in Pigeon English related to the theme of Masculinity, Violence, and Death.
March Quotes

The flowers on the coffin said Son and Forever. But it felt like Forever was already finished. It felt like somebody took it away when they killed the dead boy. It's not supposed to happen. Children aren't supposed to die, only old people. It even made me worried for if I was next. I spat out the rest of my Atomic Apple Hubba Bubba for if I swallowed it by mistake and my guts all got stuck together.

Related Characters: Harrison Opoku (Harri) (speaker), The Dead Boy
Page Number: 37
Explanation and Analysis:

We're proper detectives now. It's a personal mission. The dead boy even told the rogues to leave me alone one time when they were hooting me for wearing ankle-freezers (that's when the legs of your trousers are too short). I didn't even ask him, he just helped me for no reason. Wanted him to be my friend after that but he got killed before it came true. That's why I have to help him now, he was my friend even if he didn't know about it. He was my first friend who got killed and it hurts too much to forget.

Related Characters: Harrison Opoku (Harri) (speaker), The Dead Boy
Page Number: 47-48
Explanation and Analysis:
April Quotes

Altaf is very quiet. Nobody really knows him. You're not supposed to talk to Somalis because they're pirates. Everybody agrees. If you talk to them you might give away a clue to where you keep your treasure and the next

thing you know, your wife has been strangled alive and they're throwing you to the sharks. Me and Altaf don't have to go to RE. Mamma doesn't want me to hear about the false gods, she says it's a waste of time, and Altaf's mamma thinks the same thing.

Related Characters: Harrison Opoku (Harri) (speaker), Mamma, Altaf
Page Number: 52
Explanation and Analysis:

Some rules I have learned from my new school:

No running on the stairs.

No singing in class.

Always put your hand up before you ask a question.

Don't swallow the gum or it will get stuck in your guts and you'll die.

Jumping in the puddle means you're a retard (I don't even agree with this one).

Going around the puddle means you're a girl.

The last one in close the door.

The first one to answer the question loves the teacher.

If a girl looks at you three times in a row it means she loves you.

If you look at her back you love her.

He who smelt it dealt it.

He who denied it supplied it.

He who sensed it dispensed it.

He who knew it blew it.

He who noted it floated it.

He who declared it aired it.

He who spoke it broke it.

He who exposed it composed it.

He who blamed it flamed it.

(All these are just for farts.)

If you look at the back of a mirror you'll see the devil.

Don't eat the soup. The dinner ladies pissed in it.

Don't lend Ross Kelly your pen. He picks his arse klinkers with it.

Keep to the left (everywhere). The right is out of bounds.

The library stairs are safe.

If he wears a pinky ring he's a gay (a pinky ring is a ring on your little finger).

If she wears a bracelet on her ankle she's a lesbian (shags it up with other ladies).

Related Characters: Harrison Opoku (Harri) (speaker)
Page Number: 63-64
Explanation and Analysis:

In football nobody used to pass to me. I thought it meant they hated me. Then I found out it's because I used the wrong command. Instead of saying pass to me you have to say man on. Apart from that the rules are the same as where I used to live. Vilis still doesn't pass to me but I don't care. Where he comes from (Latvia) they burn black people into tar and make roads out of them. Everybody agrees.

Related Characters: Harrison Opoku (Harri) (speaker), Vilis
Page Number: 73-74
Explanation and Analysis:

Auntie Sonia burned her fingers to get the fingerprints off. Now she has no fingerprints at all. It's so if the police catch her they can't send her away. Your fingerprints tell them who you are. If you have no fingerprints, you can't be

anybody. Then they don't know where you belong so they can't send you back. Then they have to let you stay.

Related Characters: Harrison Opoku (Harri) (speaker), Auntie Sonia
Related Symbols: Fingerprints
Page Number: 93
Explanation and Analysis:

Auntie Sonia hasn't even done anything bad. She's never killed anybody or stolen anything. She just likes to go to different places. She likes to see the different things there. Some of the countries won't let you in if you're black. You have to sneak in. When you're in you just act like everybody else. Auntie Sonia only does the same things as them. She goes to work and shopping. She eats her dinner and goes to the park.

Related Characters: Harrison Opoku (Harri) (speaker), Auntie Sonia
Related Symbols: Fingerprints
Page Number: 93-94
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:

In England nobody helps you if you fall over. They can't tell if you're serious or if it's just a trick. It's too hard to know what's real.

Related Characters: Harrison Opoku (Harri) (speaker), Mr. Frimpong
Page Number: 130
Explanation and Analysis:


Kids vs Teachers

Northwell Manor High vs Leabridge High

Dell Farm Crew vs Lewsey Hill Crew

Emos vs Sunshine

Turkey vs Russia

Arsenal vs Chelsea

Black vs White

Police vs Kids

God vs Allah

Chicken Joe's vs KFC

Cats vs Dogs

Aliens vs Predators

Related Characters: Harrison Opoku (Harri) (speaker)
Page Number: 133
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

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:

You could see the blood. It was darker than you thought. It just felt too crazy, I couldn't keep my eyes open. I just wanted to remember, if I could remember it would be alright. Agnes's tiny fat fingers and face. I couldn't see it anymore. All babies look the same.

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