Download Falling Study Guide

Subscribe Now

Themes and Meanings

(Critical Guide to Poetry for Students)

“Falling” dramatizes the existential predicament every person faces: Since life inevitably leads to death, how does one infuse existence with meaning so that one’s plight on earth seems significant? The flight attendant’s fall from the airplane is symbolic of an individual’s journey through life, which inevitably culminates in death. In the poem, the flight attendant tries to comprehend her situation by engaging in a variety of acts that she feels will allow her to exercise a degree of control; her actions, however, ultimately are illusions, though perhaps necessary ones.

The dramatic situation in which Dickey initially places the flight attendant stresses an individual’s lack of control over his or her own destiny. Instantaneously, the flight attendant goes from a situation of security and certainty, as she performs her socially sanctioned role in the safety of a modern-day airliner, to a state in which she is on her own and facing certain obliteration. This situation is portrayed as simultaneously horrifying and exhilarating, as the flight attendant discovers she is in the “void falling living beginning to be something/ that no one has ever been.”

During her fall, she attempts to deal with her plight by interpreting it through images from American and Western culture, which constitute her reality and represent her only means of understanding existence. Dickey draws on images ranging from popular culture to Western mythology to show how immersion in a tradition endows one with a means to comprehend an otherwise meaningless existence in which the only certainty is death. These images allow the flight attendant to experience a degree of control. Her recollections of a television show in which one sky diver passes a parachute to another and a soft-drink commercial in which a woman dives into a swimming pool and emerges smiling make her feel that she can manipulate her fall, discover water, and save herself by plunging into it. She thinks that, by opening up her “jacket/ By Don Loper,” she can form wings and glide toward water. Finally, she indulges in the belief that the experience is transforming her into a fertility goddess who will awaken the slumbering libidos of persons below. Though she feels she is shedding societal constraints when she peels off her clothing and imagines herself a goddess, this role is yet another conception emanating from the very culture she feels she is...

(The entire section is 604 words.)