Themes and Meanings

(Literary Essentials: African American Literature)

The novel’s title holds a major key to its meaning. First, the novel abounds in bird references. As Wade regains consciousness in the hospital, for example, he spies a bird on the windowsill in his room. As it flies off, Wade’s frustration at his own confinement increases, and he beats his hands together. As the novel progresses, the protagonist realizes again and again that he has “no wings” or that his wings are “clipped.”

To some extent, Harlem is his cage, but it is a prison to which he has grown accustomed. Shut out of his mother’s apartment because of his attack on Faith, for example, Wade cannot accept his lot as an “outdoor child.” Given the opportunity for a new life with Gay Sommers, Wade returns to his neighborhood like one of the homing pigeons he refuses to acknowledge as members of the bird species.

After identifying a blue jay in Mount Morris Park, Rocky challenges the questionable “freedom” of birds by insisting that they really have no free will but are “guided completely by instinct.” Wade himself feels most birdlike, in this sense, when he acts from instinct, such as when he kills the Army captain and when he attacks Mumma. “It is doing what you have to do and feeling free with the world around and in you,” says Wade. Faith’s reply is that such behavior is more reminiscent of beasts than birds.

The second half of the novel’s title involves windows, portals of both ingress and...

(The entire section is 508 words.)