The title of chapter 10 of Educated (by Tara Westover) is: shield of feathers.

I could n't find any relationship between the title and the text itself.

Does "shield of feathers" have an idiomatic meaning?

Or it simply means some feathers which attached to a shield, like an Aztec shield of feathers.

The last part of chapter 10 may be significant.

My own memory of Shawn begins in the kitchen, perhaps two months after the second accident. I am making corn chowder. The door squeaks and I twist at the waist to see who’s come in, then twist back to chop an onion.

“You gonna be a walking Popsicle stick forever?” Shawn says.


“You need a chiropractor,” he says.

“Mom’ll fix it.”

“You need a chiropractor,” he says again.

The family eats, then disperses. I start the dishes. My hands are in the hot, soapy water when I hear a step behind me and feel thick, callused hands wrap around my skull. Before I can react, he jerks my head with a swift, savage motion. CRACK! It’s so loud, I’m sure my head has come off and he’s holding it. My body folds, I collapse. Everything is black but somehow spinning. When I open my eyes moments later, his hands are under my arms and he’s holding me upright.

“Might be a while before you can stand,” he says. “But when you can, I need to do the other side.”

I was too dizzy, too nauseous, for the effect to be immediate. But throughout the evening I observed small changes. I could look at the ceiling. I could cock my head to tease Richard. Seated on the couch, I could turn to smile at the person next to me. That person was Shawn, and I was looking at him but I wasn’t seeing him. I don’t know what I saw—what creature I conjured from that violent, compassionate act—but I think it was my father, or perhaps my father as I wished he were, some longed-for defender, some fanciful champion, one who wouldn’t fling me into a storm, and who, if I was hurt, would make me whole.

  • 2
    context is useful, but you shouldn't copy entire chapters into a question.
    – James K
    Jun 27, 2018 at 7:48
  • 1
    I;ve cut down to the last part, which may be signficant, since it talks about a "defender"
    – James K
    Jun 27, 2018 at 8:05

5 Answers 5


This question is probably more about literary interpretation than dictionary definition.

A shield is a device used to protect yourself from some kind of attack or threat. Shields are often made from hard, durable substances like thick wood, or metal -- whatever material is strong enough to actually provide meaningful protection.

A "shield of feathers" is therefore one that is essentially useless. This is a metaphor. The "shield of feathers" provides the appearance of a protective device, without actually offering any kind of meaningful protection.

I gather that, in the same way, the narrator has many people in her life who pretend to be supportive and helpful while actually being a constant physical threat.


I think that echoes the title of chapter 6--"Shield and buckler", which is a quote from Psalm 91:4. "He shall cover you with His feathers, and under His wings you shall take refuge; His truth shall be your shield and buckler"


There is no particular idiomatic meaning. However Native American people decorated ceremonial shields with feathers. It may allude to something that represents protection, but isn't a practical object.

It could therefore allude to the character "Shawn", or how she sees Shawn as a "father and defender"


A shield of feathers is also a phrase used by ornithologists when describing the plumage of birds.

P.S. A shield decorated with pendant feathers wouldn't really be called a shield of feathers. In that construction with of, the object of the preposition, here feathers, is what the thing is made of, similar to feet of clay, say, or a curtain of beads.

  • And Could you please tell me what the relationship between "shield of feathers" and the text is?
    – Peace
    Jun 27, 2018 at 16:32
  • I have not read the book. Moreover, that would be to venture into literary-criticism, which would be off-topic here.
    – TimR
    Jun 27, 2018 at 16:55

Given that many of Westover's chapter titles are drawn from the Bible, she may be alluding to Psalm 91, which reads "He will cover you with his feathers, and under his wings you will find refuge; his faithfulness will be your shield and rampart." It is definitely an ironic allusion, as she wishes at the end of the chapter for a father who would protect and heal her.

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