The Rainbow Bird
by Vance Palmer
Complete Explanation for the Short Story included in the CHSE +2 Alternative English book ‘Approaches to English – II’.
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Section I : Questions for discussion
1. Why was Maggie unmindful in the classroom the whole of the afternoon?
Answer – Maggie was a girl very passionate about the charms of the outdoors. She, particularly, was fond of a blue-green bird, shot with gold with an arrow-shaped tail. She was lost in the thought of seeing it again to feast her eyes.
2. “The hands crawled down the cracked face of the clock with aggravating slowness;….” What does this expression suggest?
Answer – Since she was not at all attentive to her studies, and frantically wanted to go out, the time seemed to drag on agonizingly. The hour hand of the clock appeared to move very slowly for her.
3. Why did Maggie avoid other girls of the class?
Answer – Maggie was a girl with a very different taste. She loved to see the birds, flies, insects etc. living in their habitat undisturbed, and unafraid of predators. Presence of other girls was a distraction for her, and a source of fear for the birds and insects she loved so much. They would possibly flee on seeing so many noisy humans around. This is why Maggie didn’t like her friends around.
4. What did Maggie do when the school was over?
Answer – As soon as the bell rang, she rushed out to the spot where she could see her favourite bird.
5. How did Maggie feel at the sight of the rainbow-bird? What vision came to her each night before she closed her eyes in sleep?
Answer – Maggie’s excitement knew no bounds on spotting the rainbow-bird. She was overjoyed. Don wanted to find out if there were some young ones in the bird’s nest perched inside the wild grass growing on the furrow. But, Maggie instantly stopped him saying that any such intrusion might scare the rainbow bird making it fly away to a safer place.
7. “It’s a bird now”. In which context does Maggie’s mother say so? Why ‘now’? Does it imply that Maggie had other obsessions earlier? Which ones?
Answer – Maggie was obsessed with the many life forms she saw around her. They were as fascinating as they were intriguing. She treasured their shapes, sizes and colours. In her drawer, she had kept her collections of cowries, and beetles’ wings. Her mother was bemuse and slightly vexed with Maggie’s fascination. When she started muttering something with her face pressed against her pillow, her mother expressed her disgust saying that another creature — the bird — had joined her daughter’s long list of lovely things.
Section II : Questions for discussion
1. Whom did Maggie and Don meet near the sl e-oak? What was he doing there?
Answer – Maggie and Don met Cafferty, the Honey Man. Cafferty was intently looking at the nest.
2. How was Maggie shocked at the sight of the Honey Man? Comment briefly on how her feeling of excitement and joy changed suddenly to one of fear, anger and hatred for the man.
Answer – Maggie found that Cafferty had a gun with him. It was quite unusual for someone to have a gun in that place which had no record of crime. So, she was taken aback. Fear gripped her. The initial joy of fun and excitement of the outdoors vanished. Instead, an unknown fear gripped them. It was a very distressing feeling to see a man moving around with a gun in that peaceful area. This fear has been likened to ‘an icy hand’.
3. “Beast ! That’s what you are.. A b-beast.” How do these words characterize the feelings of the small girl when she finds that her world of joy and wonder had been destroyed.
Answer – Maggie was an innocent little girl not accustomed to the cruelty and exploitation of the world. She loved the birds, the flowers, and the life in many of its forms that enriched her surroundings. On seeing the mutilated body of a beautiful dead rainbow bird so mercilessly hung by Cafferty by his hand, she froze in horror and disgust. The shock came like a bolt from the blue. In indignation and shock, she slumped on to the ground, calling Caffrety a beast.
4. Why did Cafferty swear to wipe the rainbow-birds off the face of the earth?
Answer – Cafferty was amused to see the anguish in Maggie’s face over the shooting of the Rainbow bird. He justified his action saying that Rainbow birds feed on bees as they emerge out of their hives. The birds also, at times, fly into a cluster of flying bees, and catch the Queen bee. Killing the Queen bee endangers the whole community of bees. If bees are destroyed like this, there would be no honey that humans consume. So, said, Cafferty, Rainbow birds deserve to be hunted down.
5. “There was dull passion in is absorbed eyes, a sense of warning against evil.” How does this sentence portray the attitude of the Honey Man? What contrast do you mark between the world of Maggie and the world of Cafferty?
Answer – Cafferty, obviously, felt no remorse for having shot the Rainbow bird. Maggie’s admonition had no effect on him. Instead, he felt good about killing the bird that posed a threat to his trade.
6. What difference you mark between the attitudes of Maggie and Don? Does Don support Cafferty?
Answer – Don was a boy, the brother of Maggie. He was not as soft-hearted and emotional like his sister. He didn’t feel any revulsion towards Cafferty for his hunting. He was not moved by the killing of the bird, and took it in his stride as if nothing had happened.
i) What happens to the Honey Man after the bird is killed?
Answer – The Honey man walks away triumphantly with no sense of guilt. On the contrary, he declares a reward of six pence for each bird to be killed by Don.
ii) How does Maggie look at the happeneing?
Answer – Maggie is bitter, and shocked at the way Cafferty killed the innocent bird, and justified his action so unabashedly.
Section III : Questions for discussion
1. What ideas sweep Maggie’s mind after she returned home and threw herself on the bed? Do you mark the difference between Maggie’s feelings in Section I and those in Section III?
Answer – Maggie is seething in anger against Cafferty, the Honey man. She wants the hunter to be punished for his brutality unleashed on the innocent rainbow-bird. The resentment that she felt earlier has turned to a burning desire for retribution from God. She wants a lightening to strike him and char him to death.
2. What did Maggie imagine when she heard voices between broken drifts of sleep?
Answer – Maggie heard some low sounds outside. It was a mix of telephone ring, car horn, some hustle and bustle etc. She felt perhaps a funeral was being arranged.
3. How did she react when she was told that Cafferty had been injured? Why did she think “everything had come right”?
Answer – Maggie’s mind was filled with glee and relief. She imagined that God had punished him for his cruelty towards the rainbow-bird. She felt that Cafferty was either dead or was going to die soon. She felt Cafferty had got his due.
4. Do you find in her a vengeful attitude? Does she feel that justice has been done? What impression do you form about her from her reaction to the Honey Man’s suffering?
Answer – Maggie, no doubt, was burning in rage thinking of the way Cafferty had shot the bird, dangled its dead body, and later had justified his deed. No doubt, Maggie was vengeful, but her compassion overshadowed her vengefulness. She derived some pleasure thinking of the pain and suffering of the Honey man.
5. What change do you mark in her in the last paragraph? Has there been a restoration of her world of joy and wonder? How did she imagine about the rainbow-bird and the Honey Man?
Answer – Obviously, she feels that Cafferty had met his justice. She is both happy and relieved. Her rage has ceded place to calm and comfort. She feels a sense of joy, and wonders how swiftly God had administered justice to the sinner, Cafferty. She imagines that the rainbow-bird had soared into the sky again, where as the hunter lay miserably on the ground with life gone out of his body.
Questions for Composition
1. How does the rainbow-bird create a world of wonder and magic for Maggie?
Answer – For the innocent, tender-hearted Maggie, the rainbow-bird with her multi-hued plumage was a thing of beauty, and a joy for ever. Its flight was majestic, and its home, the tunnel was intriguing. For her, it was perhaps the most beautiful and defense-less creatures on earth.
2. Describe how the story comes full circle with the restoration of Maggie’s world of joy and wonder?
Answer – Cafferty was a hunter. His profession had hardened his heart, and robbed him of sympathy and compassion. Maggie, on the other hand, was a young child with a very tender heart. She reviled Cafferty for his brutality and abominable insensitivity towards birds and other small creatures. Deep within her, she seethed in indignation and anger against Cafferty. When misfortune befell him leading to his injury, Maggie was delighted greatly. She felt it was poetic justice for Cafferty. Sh felt the birds and insects would have a safer place to live now.
3. Give an account of the contrasting attitude of Maggie and the others around her to the rainbow-bird.
Answer – Initially, Maggie and her friends had gone an expedition to see the Rainbow and other birds. They were agog with excitement. They looked forward to seeing the Rainbow bird. Later, on seeing the mutilated body of the bird, her mind was filled with indignation and anger towards Cafferty. She felt miserable and an urge to take revenge gripped her.