A Flag for Sunrise (Magill's Literary Annual 1982)
After only three novels, Robert Stone has established himself as one of the most important novelists, perhaps even the foremost of his generation, now writing in America. Many of his peers, at any rate, feel this way, if honors are an indication. When he broke on the scene with A Hall of Mirrors (1967), a story about a fanatically patriotic radio station and its influence, he was awarded the Faulkner Award for best first novel. For his second effort, Dog Soldiers (1974), a story centering on a drug smuggling scheme between Vietnam and California and its effects on the participants, he won the National Book Award. His third novel, A Flag for Sunrise, was nominated for the American Book Award and the P.E.N./Faulkner Award. A Flag for Sunrise has its share of technical and stylistic flaws, but in terms of moral seriousness and purpose, it is without a doubt one of the most significant books of the year. Stone’s analysis of the effect of the Vietnamese experience on the American psyche may perhaps strike with particular force those readers who belong to the Vietnamese war generation, but all readers who value the discussion of serious questions in literature are bound to respond to the book’s concern with such issues as the effects of colonialism, the burden of personal involvement, the nature of human evil, and the yearning for religious certainty.
(The entire section is 1751 words.)
Want to Read More?
Subscribe now to read the rest of this article. Plus get complete access to 30,000+ study guides!
In A Flag for Sunrise, Stone creates a realistic and suspenseful novel seemingly possessed by a menacing sense of impending doom. Drawing heavily on plot development and enhancing the action with a continuous stream of complex, engaging characters to attract attention, Stone is attempting to both entertain and instruct his readers. Criticized for being episodic and disjointed in structure, the novel represents an artistic challenge for Stone. Consequently, the novel's most successful quality is Stone's ability to re-create real experience into the fictional lives of his characters. In the process, Stone provides vivid and often transcendent descriptions to supplement his thematic concerns. Likewise, his dialogue is at once capable of vibrant intensity and lyrical brilliance. Although flawed as a serious work of art, the novel represents a significant step in Stone's progression as an artist.
(The entire section is 135 words.)
Ideas for Group Discussions
1. It seems unlikely that any good will ever come to the inhabitants of Tecan. Does Stone offer any conditions for optimism in a country plagued by greed, corruption, and brutality?
2. Discuss the development of Father Egan during the course of the novel. What are the elements responsible for his growth as a character?
3. Alcohol and drug usage are controlling elements for several of the major characters of the novel. How does this dependence help to define Stone's characters?
4. Is it impulse and curiosity that bring Holliwell to Tecan? What else could have impacted on his decision to observe the activities of Egan and Sister Justin?
5. While scuba diving off the coast of Tecan, Holliwell confronts the reality of absolute terror. How is his character changed by the experience?
6. What importance does sexual intrusion play in the development of the novel?
7. Pablo Tabor has been called the most "compelling" character in the novel. What signifies the intensity of his personality?
8. What similarities exist between the characters of Holliwell and Pablo?
9. Sister Justin is clearly a unique creation for Stone. Is she as one critic describes her a "little too good to be true"?
10. Holliwell is both casualty and survivor of his Vietnam experience. How is this also true about his experience in Tecan? How is the presence of Vietnam reflected in the current situation...
(The entire section is 225 words.)
Incorporating suspense with melodramatic as well as cinematic techniques, Stone attempts in A Flag for Sunrise to portray the social and political decadence of the modern world derived in part from the fictional ouevre of Graham Greene, notably in The Power and the Glory (1940), The Heart of the Matter (1948), The Quiet American (1955), The Comedians (1966), and The Honorary Counsul (1973). Like Greene, Stone is drawn to a locale that heightens the intensity and complexity of thematic elements by association with danger and uncertainty. Characters are confronted with circumstances that force them by necessity to redefine themselves as a means of survival. Recognizing the chaotic and surreal nature of the political turmoil in Central America as conducive to fictional treatment, Stone, like Joan Didion in Salvador (1982), captures in A Flag for Sunrise the magnitude and futility of the contemporary situation.
(The entire section is 137 words.)
Similar to both A Hall of Mirrors and Dog Soldiers, A Flag for Sunrise uses a political situation to serve as the backdrop for the action of the novel. Exploring the parameters of American involvement in Central America, Stone creates in A Flag for Sunrise a venue for debate concerning the diverse elements that have shaped American foreign policy. For Stone, the parallel between Central America and Vietnam signifies a course of action both predictable and ultimately destructive.
(The entire section is 78 words.)
Bibliography (Magill's Survey of American Literature, Revised Edition)
Sources for Further Study
The Atlantic Monthly. CCXLVIII, November, 1981, p. 86.
Library Journal. CVI, September 1, 1981, p. 1648.
The New Republic. CLXXXV, November 18, 1981, p. 36.
New Statesman. CII, November 27, 1981, p. 22.
The New York Review of Books. XXVIII, December 3, 1981, p. 37.
The New York Times Book Review. LXXXVI, October 18, 1981, p. 1.
Newsweek. XCVIII, October 26, 1981, p. 88.
Saturday Review. VIII, November, 1981, p. 69.
(The entire section is 53 words.)