Study Guide

The Danish Girl Kites

By David Ebershoff

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The Last Symbol

Ah, flying a kite is so relaxing. On a warm, windy day, feeling the kite gently tug the string in your hand, the breeze on your face… and then the kite dive-bombs into your head and kills you. Hey there, kite of death.

Okay, we hope nothing like that has ever happened, but kites often serve as a sinister omen in this story. We see kites a lot, and they're pretty much never good news. First, chronologically, is when Einar and Hans play with a kite as kids. A gust crashes their kite into the bog, "which swallowed it as if it were heavy as a stone" (3.14). Soon after, Hans and Einar pretend to be husband and wife, get caught by Hans's dad, and Hans is beaten. Ouch. So much for carefree childhood playing.

Years later, when Einar is sitting on a bench thinking of suicide, children nearby are playing with a kite. The children's governess is suspicious of Einar, who just came from a sexual encounter in a peep show. He feels like a creepy perv and wants to shed his Einar skin in favor of the innocent Lili. We might say he wants Einar to fly far away.

While waiting for Bolk in Dresden, Einar visits a kite shop to kill time. He sees a butterfly kite, a dragon kite, and an eagle kite. He wants to be like the butterfly kite, entering the clinic as Einar, leaving as Lili: "It wasn't a decision, just a natural progression of events" (20.69)—you know, like spinning a cocoon.

Unfortunately, Lili is like the first kite, crashing and sinking like a stone. After her surgery, she is consumed by a fatal infection, so Carlisle and Anna take her on a final walk, where she watches children flying a kite for the last time. The very last thing she sees is the kite swooping "like a ghost" and "coming for her" (29.72). Yikes. Kites have never been scarier, Shmoopers.

However, the kite is a little bittersweet—in each kite encounter, there's a bit of tenderness in the mix, too. Einar shares the nice moment with Hans. The governess's child doesn't think Einar is creepy, and she says hi to him. And before she dies, Lili is glad that she got to live as Lili, despite how briefly. The kite is like Einar and Lili: flying high, but not for very long.

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