The baby bird that Gifty and Nana tried to rescue after it fell from its nest symbolizes Gifty’s childhood helplessness and dependence. Holding the bird in her hands, five-year-old Gifty is struck by its vulnerability. Weakness and vulnerability are the things that she tries hardest to escape after Nana’s death and her mother’s depression, and the unease she experiences when she feels the baby bird trembling in her hands foreshadows her attempts to reject weakness and vulnerability in herself as an older child and later, as an adult.
The bird’s connection with weakness and vulnerability underwrites its connection to the lab mice Gifty uses in her experiment. These creatures are completely subject to her whims and her experimental manipulation, but she doesn’t hate them for their vulnerability (as she hates and fears vulnerability and weakness in herself). Instead, she cares deeply about them, trying to treat them as gently and respectfully as possible. Later, Gifty remembers the baby bird again when she watches her mother holding a lab mouse in her hands, and this helps her to realize the truth of her mother’s claim that every living creature is vulnerable to suffering and pain—even Gifty—and that it isn’t necessarily a personal failure to be vulnerable.
Baby Bird Quotes in Transcendent Kingdom
Like when I was five and Nana was eleven, and we found a baby bird that had fallen out of its nest. Nana scooped it into his big palms, and the two of us ran home. The house was empty. The house was always empty, but we knew we needed to act fast, because if our mother came home to find the bird, she’d kill it outright or take it away and drop it in some small stretch of wilderness, leaving it to die. She’d tell us exactly what she’d done, too. She was never the kind of parent who lied to make her children feel better … Nana left the bird with me while he poured a bowl of milk for it. When I held it in my hands, I felt its fear, the unending shiver of its little round body, and I started crying.
I’m not pretending there is an impending disaster; I truly believe that there is one. At one point, I make a low, guttural, animal sound, a sound so clearly biological in its design to elicit attention and sympathy from my fellow animals, and yet my fellow animals—my father, my brother,—do nothing but talk over me … we are all safe, in a small, rented house in Alabama, not stranded in a dark and dangerous rain forest, not on a raft in the middle of the sea. So the sound is a nonsense sound, a misplaced sound, a lion’s roar in the tundra. When I listen to the tape now, it seems to me that this itself was the disaster I foresaw, a common enough disaster for most infants these days: that I was a baby, born cute, loud, needy, but wild, but the conditions of the wilderness had changed.