A Kestrel for a Knave Summary

  • Last updated on July 14, 2023
Title: A Kestrel for a Knave

Author: Barry Hines
Publish Date: 1968
Genre: Coming-of-age Fiction
Page Length: Approximately 200 pages


A Kestrel for a Knave, written by Barry Hines and published in 1968, is a profound coming-of-age novel that explores themes of poverty, isolation, and the power of nature. Set in a small Yorkshire mining town during the 1960s, the story follows the daily struggles faced by Billy Casper, a young working-class boy who finds solace and purpose in training a kestrel named Kes.

Chapter 1: Billy's Morning Routine - In this chapter, we are introduced to Billy Casper, a fifteen-year-old boy from a broken family, who lives in poverty with his neglectful and abusive half-brother Jud. The chapter provides a glimpse into Billy's grim daily routine, where he wakes up to a chaotic household and a lack of support or understanding from those around him.

Chapter 2: School Days - As Billy arrives at school, his turbulent home life transitions into the oppressive and unkind environment of his school. Here, he meets Mr. Gryce, a harsh and uncompromising P.E. teacher, who represents the disinterested and disconnected adults in Billy's life. Despite his struggles with education, Billy demonstrates a keen interest in nature and appears most content when exploring the surrounding fields and woods.

Chapter 3: The Kite - The oppressive atmosphere at school continues as Billy is bullied by his classmates, particularly MacDowall, who steals his kite. Billy's determination to retrieve his kite showcases his resilience and unwillingness to succumb to the hardships he faces daily.

Chapter 4: Billy Finds Kes - While wandering near an abandoned barn, Billy discovers a nest of kestrels. Fascinated by these magnificent birds, he decides to take one of the baby kestrels home, naming it Kes. Through his newfound bond with Kes, Billy experiences a brief escape from his troubled life, finding companionship and purpose in the training and care of his bird.

Chapter 5: Billy's Struggle at Home - Returning home, Billy is again confronted by the harsh reality of his domestic life. His half-brother, Jud, belittles and undermines him, eroding any sense of self-worth Billy may have. Despite this, Billy remains determined to focus on Kes, drawing strength from their connection.

Chapter 6: Falconry and Billy's Escape - Billy discovers that beyond being a mere hobby, falconry offers him a chance to develop a skill. He begins gathering books on the subject, educating himself to further enhance his bond with Kes. The solace he finds in falconry becomes his escape, allowing him to momentarily transcend the limitations imposed on him by both home and school.

Chapter 7: Billy and Kes - As Billy's knowledge and understanding of falconry grows, so does his bond with Kes. Their relationship becomes a symbol of freedom and self-expression, contrasting starkly against the confinement of Billy's daily life. Kes, in a sense, becomes a reflection of Billy himself, showcasing the beauty and potential locked within his struggling soul.

Chapter 8: The Tragedy of Kes - In this poignant chapter, tragedy strikes as Billy's half-brother, Jud, callously kills Kes, causing immense grief and heartbreak for Billy. This devastating event serves as a metaphor for the cycle of poverty, prejudice, and hopelessness that restricts individuals like Billy from achieving their dreams.

Chapter 9: Billy's Quiet Rebellion - Following the loss of Kes, Billy shows an unyielding determination to assert his individuality. He refuses to participate in the typical expectations imposed upon him by his teachers, instead focusing on the pursuit of self-discovery and his own passions.

Chapter 10: Billy's Fate - The novel concludes with an uncertain future for Billy. The system that perpetuates his poverty and restricts his opportunities still looms over his prospects. However, the experiences with Kes have left an indelible mark on Billy's spirit, empowering him to question the predetermined path set before him. The reader is left with a sense of both sadness and hope, contemplating the challenges faced by those trapped in circumstances beyond their control.


A Kestrel for a Knave poignantly portrays the struggles faced by individuals born into poverty and the impact of their limited prospects on their self-worth. Throughout the novel, the power of nature and the bond between human and animal serve as a source of solace and transcendence for the protagonist. The story also explores the themes of isolation, the oppressive educational system, and the absence of supportive adult figures in Billy's life.


A Kestrel for a Knave holds great significance as a literary work that sheds light on the issues faced by marginalized youth. Through its poignant narrative and well-drawn characters, the novel effectively showcases the limitations and prejudices imposed on individuals from underprivileged backgrounds. By addressing such pertinent themes, the story invites readers to critically examine their own biases and society's role in perpetuating cycles of poverty and societal disenfranchisement.

Categories: Books