Study Guide

The Hundred-Foot Journey Birds

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There are many important moments of revelation in The Hundred-Foot Journey, and a bird appears in or is somehow a part of pretty much every single one. And while the first thing that might come to mind for you when you think of birds is the sky or flight, in this book they are usually connected with moments that ground characters. Here are a few examples to help you see what we mean.

The Ravens

Hassan is visiting the market with Bappu in Chapter 2 and sees ravens circling overhead, scattering droppings on the food in the stalls. He says:

[…] to this day, whenever I attempt something ludicrously "artistic" in my Paris kitchen, this raucous cry of Crawford ravens warning me to stay close to the earth. (2.11)

The moral of the story for Hassan, it seems, is to stick with what you know—otherwise, there's no telling what the truth is of the food he's working with. This fits in neatly with the general symbolism that ravens are connected to in Hinduism, which has to do with memory and information. Though Hassan himself isn't Hindu, it is the dominant religion in India, so it's safe to say that Hinduism is part of the culture he's grown up with.

The Duck

In Chapter 11, Mallory is questioning her actions toward others and general attitude about life when she visits a foie gras farm. The owner who is feeding the ducks lets one go because, by raising other ducklings as her own, the animal has shown "'more kindness than a human being'" (11.41). The person we're supposed to think of who struggles with kindness is, of course, none other than Mallory herself, and in the releasing of the kind goose, it is subtly stated that kindness is a sort of liberation from misery in its own right.

The Ptarmigan

The Icelandic delicacy that Hassan is preparing in Chapter 16 brings about his decision to start over again using only fresh and simple ingredients. Originally the recipe was supposed to be super complicated, but he gets overwhelmed and realizes that he needs something to change. So again, we see a bird bringing a character back to the basics.

The Dead Chickens

Hassan has a dream about the assembly line inside a chicken slaughterhouse. Instead of being thoroughly disgusted, though, the image of dead chickens being sent to be chopped up and packaged brings peace to Hassan's mind, reminding him that "there are many points in life when we cannot see what awaits us around the corner, and it is precisely at such times [that we must bravely keep our nerve]" (17.48). Instead of panicking or getting ahead of himself, then, this dream reminds Hassan to take life as it comes.

In short, thoughnone of the bird images are particularly uplifting or beautiful in this book—heck, the birds are often facing death—they all lead to improvements in characters' lives. And importantly, these improvements consistently manifest as a sort of getting back to basics, whether Mallory is considering the value of kindness of Hassan is remembering the value of basic ingredients. And in this way, birds show up in moments when our characters start to soar.

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