Going Solo by Roald Dahl: Summary & Quotes

Instructor: Erica Schimmel

Erica has taught college English writing and literature courses and has a master's degree in children's literature.

Roald Dahl is spending his early twenties working in Africa until WWII begins and he signs up to become a pilot. Find out more about his experience, and some important quotes, in this summary of his autobiography 'Going Solo'.

The Man Behind the Chocolate

Even if you've never read one of his books or heard his name, you're still probably familiar with Roald Dahl through his classic children's books such as Charlie and the Chocolate Factory. But what about the man himself? If you've read his autobiography Boy, you know his childhood was not without its share of funny experiences. But his escapades didn't end there, and so he tells the next chunk of his story in the sequel, Going Solo. Let's go through a summary of this book, highlighting some significant quotes.

Setting Sail

''The whole of that amazing tropical scene through the port-hole has been photographed on my mind ever since.''

We begin in 1938, when 22-year-old Roald is heading to Africa to work for the Shell company. He has no idea what he's in store for, but the ship he is sailing there on is chock full of entertaining people: the Major and his wife who take naked morning jogs around the deck, the older woman who refuses to touch anything she eats with her fingers, and his cabin-mate, a man who cycles through his collection of 4 wigs in order to keep people from finding out he is bald.

As enjoyable as it is for Roald to watch his eccentric fellow passengers, he enjoys his first view of his destination, Dar es Salaam in Tanganyika, even more. The feeling of love at first sight never fades. He is consistently in awe of the incredible scenery and animals such as giraffes, elephants, hippos, and any other animal you might expect to see in Africa. The species he is less than thrilled about are snakes, especially mambas. Not that snakes are the only animals to watch out for, as Roald learns one night when a lion attempts to carry off the wife of his friend's cook. Nonetheless, it is the snakes Roald hates the most. Even getting the chance to watch the ''snake-man,'' an older Englishman in his 70's who seems able to catch any snake, catch a giant green mamba doesn't help Roald get over his distaste for the deadly creatures. Neither does saving a man's life by spotting a black mamba in time for the man to defend himself.

War Is Coming

''…all of us were ordered to leave our jobs and to become, by some magic process, temporary army officers.''

Roald's new life is cut short by World War II. He's put in charge of a group of men and told they are in charge of stopping the Germans who will try and leave the area once war is officially declared, even though Roald has never been a soldier. Can you imagine how frightening it must have been for him when he had to stop a group of Germans and they all pulled their guns on him? Fortunately, one of the men in Roald's unit is a crack shot and takes down the German giving Roald the most trouble. Not everyone is as reluctant to get involved in the fighting. Mdishi, Roald's personal helper, is so excited he uses a decorative sword of Roald's to behead a local German. Roald doesn't hold it against the excitable young man, but he does encourage him to keep it to himself. In the meantime, Roald has made the decision he will enter the fray as a pilot.

Taking To The Air

''I shall fly English birds against the birds of the Germani.''

Fortunately, there is no height restriction and so the 6 foot 6 inch Roald is cleared to begin pilot training. For 6 months he trains in Nairobi, and he loves it. What's not to love? He's got great companions there and he gets to fly over gorgeous Africa for free all the time. It's a different story when he heads to advanced training in Habbaniya, Iraq. Where Africa is beautiful, Iraq is ''abominable.'' Nevertheless, Roald is able to complete his training. He's made an official Pilot Officer and assigned to Ismalia on the Suez Canal.

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