Style and Technique

(Comprehensive Guide to Short Stories, Critical Edition)

Ellison primarily uses the third-person point of view in “Flying Home,” yet very early he alerts the reader that he will play some tricks with it. While in a state of semiconsciousness, Todd hears voices, not placed in quotation marks, which are both inside his head and outside. Where the voices are coming from, who is speaking, what one intends or perceives, and what biases govern thought and speech—these questions that Ellison raises involve an interrelationship between theme and point of view. When Jefferson speaks of buzzards and black angels, Todd perceives himself as the actor in those roles. When Todd enters the world of his past for the first time, Ellison almost without warning shifts to the first-person point of view and thus places the reader intimately within the mind of his protagonist. It is as though, along with Todd, the reader has difficulty distinguishing between external and inner reality. Todd’s second memory is, on the other hand, clearly noted as his own thoughts. The progression in the story, in fact, is a gradual clearing of Todd’s mind so that by the end he sees clearly both himself and the outer world. Both technically and thematically, point of view comes into focus.

This manipulation of point of view, however, is not nearly as interesting in itself as are its implications in another facet of Ellison’s technique. Typically, Ellison likes his stories to operate on a mythical level. While maintaining a high degree of realism, including psychological realism, Ellison controls characters and events to fit into mythical patterns that universalize them. The story about a young man coming to awareness, for example, is clearly a vision of the initiation motif. His fall from the sky, like the black angel’s condemnation to the hell of Alabama, follows the pattern of death and rebirth. The buzzard that feeds on death is in the final statement of the story “a bird of flaming gold,” perhaps a reference to the phoenix, and certainly a reinforcement of the death-rebirth motif. The identification of Todd with Icarus and Jefferson with...

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Flying Home Bibliography

(Comprehensive Guide to Short Stories, Critical Edition)

De Santis, Christopher C. “’Some Cord of Kinship Stronger and Deeper than Blood’: An Interview with John F. Callahan, Editor of Ralph Ellison’s Juneteenth.African American Review 34, no. 4 (2000): 601-621.

Hersey, John. Ralph Ellison: A Collection of Critical Essays. Englewood Cliffs, N.J.: Prentice-Hall, 1974.

Hobson, Christopher Z. “Ralph Ellison, Juneteenth, and African American Prophecy.” MFS: Modern Fiction Studies 51, no. 3 (2005): 617-647.

Jackson, Lawrence. Ralph Ellison: Emergence of Genius. New York: John Wiley & Sons, 2002.

McSweeney, Kerry. “Invisible Man”: Race and Identity. Boston: G. K. Hall, 1988.

Nadel, Alan. “Ralph Ellison and the American Canon.” American Literary History 13, no. 2 (2001): 393-404.

Porter, Horace A. Jazz Country: Ralph Ellison in America. Iowa City: University of Iowa Press, 2001.

Warren, Kenneth. So Black and Blue: Ralph Ellison and the Occasion of Criticism. Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 2003.

Watts, Jerry Gafio. Heroism and the Black Intellectual: Ralph Ellison, Politics, and Afro-American Intellectual Life. Chapel Hill: University of North Carolina Press, 1994.

Yuins, E. “Artful Juxtaposition on the Page: Memory Perception and Cubist Technique in Ralph Ellison’s Juneteenth.” PMLA: Publications of the Modern Language Association 119, no. 5 (October, 2004): 1247.