Study Guide

A Flag for Sunrise

by Robert Stone

A Flag for Sunrise Summary

Summary (Masterpieces of American Literature)

An ambitious novel set in the fictional Central American country of Tecan, A Flag for Sunrise attacks United States interference in the economy, politics, and culture of Latin American countries. Its title derives from Emily Dickinson’s question, “Sunrise, hast thou a flag for me?”—an unspoken plea by Stone’s characters as they pursue something beyond themselves, a new vision to salute tomorrow. The novel continually draws parallels with the horrors and fiascoes of Vietnam through the memories of the central observer, Frank Holliwell, onetime Central Intelligence Agency (CIA) operative, now a wandering professor. It asks what blood price Americans pay daily, the distant, violent human cost of tabletop salt or sugar. The novel brought Stone the Los Angeles Times Book Prize, the John Dos Passos Prize for literature, the American Academy and Institute of Arts and Letters Award, and nominations for the Pulitzer Prize, the American Book Award, the National Book Critics Circle Award, and the PEN/Faulkner Award.

By exploring the fates of Americans whose lives become entangled in Tecanecan politics, Stone sums up the diverse motives that draw Americans into conflicts which he believes are none of their business and which they only vaguely understand. Characters include the bored and frustrated Roman Catholic nun, the beautiful and näive Sister Justin Feeney; the burned-out drifter, anthropologist Frank Holliwell, a would-be romantic, who only feels alive when involved in the mystery of conflicts in the threatening and oppressive tropics; and the aggressively...

(The entire section is 651 words.)

A Flag for Sunrise Summary (Critical Survey of Literature for Students)

Father Charles Egan has been in the fictional Central American country of Tecan, which resembles Nicaragua, for ten years. Though the Canadian priest has been ordered to close his mission, he intends to stay. His only companion is Sister Justin Feeney, a young American nurse more idealistic than he is. Lieutenant Campos of the Guardia Nacional is suspicious of Justin’s political sympathies. After six years in Tecan, the nurse wants to see political and social change. When the Guardia kills a young American woman, Campos forces Father Egan to dispose of the body.

Frank Holliwell, an anthropology professor, drives to New York City to catch a flight to Central America. In Brooklyn, he has lunch with Marty Nolan, a CIA agent and friend with whom he worked during the Vietnam War. Nolan has heard from their mutual friend Oscar Ocampo, an anthropologist in Compostela, that Holliwell is scheduled to deliver a lecture there. Nolan wants any information Holliwell can provide about Tecan, which borders on Compostela.

Sister Mary Joseph, who works in Tecan’s mountains, visits Father Egan and Justin, whom she sees as too good to be true, to try to talk some sense into them. Father Godoy, a Tecanecan priest, says both he and Justin have failed because the country itself is a failure. Godoy is friendly with rebels who are based in the mountains.

Pablo Tabor feels he is wasting his life in the U.S. Coast Guard. He shoots his hunting dogs, threatens to kill his wife, and runs away to Central America. In Compostela, Pablo meets Jack and Deedee Callahan, drunken Americans who want to hire him to work on their boat. Pablo is suspicious about what they may be up to.

Holliwell’s lecture at Compostela’s House of the Study of Mankind is a disaster. A bit intoxicated, he drifts into an anti-American rant that leaves his audience hissing. Attending the lecture are Tom Zecca, a military attaché to the American embassy in Tecan, and his wife, Marie, a former social worker. Both have also spent time in Vietnam. They volunteer to drive Holliwell to Tecan. Holliwell receives a series of telephone calls threatening his life because of the lecture.

Justin and Father Egan are ordered to report to Metairie, Louisiana. Their mission is to be sold to the conglomerate that owns the International Fruit and Vegetable company. Produce is the only Tecanecan resource of value to the United States.

In fear for his life in Compostela, Holliwell asks the Zeccas to drive him to Tecan. Accompanying them is Bob Cole, another Vietnam veteran, who plans to contact the Tecanecan rebels. Cole and Tom explain to Holliwell how Tecan has been exploited by U.S. interests. Tom warns Cole that visiting the rebels is too...

(The entire section is 1122 words.)