One of Dickey’s major themes in Alnilam is sight versus blindness. The blind father often sees more clearly than the sighted characters. Dickey repeatedly emphasizes the unreliability of the senses. He contrasts the physical power of seeing and the luminous inner sight of understanding. His use of parallel texts between the dark and the light, although clumsy, underscores his point.
Dickey is also interested in father-son relationships. He is influenced by classical mythology, particularly Sophocles’ blind hero Oedipus. Cahill, like his mythical counterpart, is intrigued by his family roots. It is Cahill who comes to an understanding of himself and discovers the truth about his son and, perhaps unknowingly, a part of himself. Both Oedipus and Cahill have to contend with hubris, the classical sin of pride. Cahill listens to no one, a trait the classical hero also shares. Yet unlike Oedipus, who searches for his father, the sightless Cahill searches for his Icarus-like son, who flew too close to the flames.
Dickey is also interested in the meaning and mystery of flight. He writes highly mystical passages about the air, perhaps drawing on his own experiences as a World War II fighter pilot. The best sequences in the book occur when he is describing the mystique of flying, as, for example, when the novelist has two airmen describe their flying experiences during the war and later when Cahill takes his first flight.
(The entire section is 484 words.)