Form and Content

(Masterpieces of Women's Literature)

Fear of Flying is the story of the self-discovery of a twenty-nine-year-old woman who seeks new freedom and a new way of being in the age of women’s liberation. As the story opens, Isadora is on a plane in flight to Vienna, accompanying her psychoanalyst husband Bennett Wing to a congress of psychoanalysts. Literally afraid of flying, Isadora believes that only her concentration keeps the plane aloft. Her fear of flying also has important metaphorical significance, however, indicating her fear of independence, of following her spirit of adventurousness. Sharing her flight are a number of psychoanalysts, some of whom have treated her—for the most part incompetently, usually by telling her that she should accept being a woman. The novel follows Isadora’s adventures in Vienna and later in Europe, and alternates her account of these events with flashbacks that tell of her early life in New York City.

At the conference in Vienna, Isadora meets Adrian Goodlove and is immediately strongly attracted to him. He urges her to leave her husband behind in Vienna and join him on a trip across Europe. Pulled in two directions, Isadora agonizes over the choice between Bennett, who represents safety and the predictable, and Adrian, who represents the spontaneity and excitement that is lacking from her marriage. Adrian promises to teach her not to be afraid of what is inside her, and the two embark on what is supposed to be a completely spontaneous...

(The entire section is 593 words.)


(Masterpieces of Women's Literature)

When Fear of Flying appeared in 1973, it was immediately seized on by both men and women as representing the new feminist consciousness of women’s liberation. The reviews indicated that some readers were shocked by the candidly sexual language and by the novel’s protagonist, who insists on describing sexual fantasies and sexual experience from a women’s point of view and who does not apologize for an insistence on her right to sexual pleasure. On the other hand, feminist reviewers represented many women readers in applauding a fictional heroine who was creative and intellectual but also highly sexual. Men also welcomed the novel, indicating that they learned much about women’s sexual feelings from the book. The ultimate message in the novel about female sexuality is that it is not so different from male sexuality. The novel’s impact is suggested by the fact that it was a best-seller, with three million copies sold in the first year.

Many women related to Isadora’s difficult struggle to stand on her own. For many years, women had been conditioned to defer to men and to value their roles as sweethearts and wives above all others. Isadora is like the typical woman in that she had a tendency to fawn over men, but she is also an accomplished and creative person in her own right—a poet—and her identity as an individual and a writer becomes increasingly important to her in the course of the novel. Isadora also recounts her search for female artistic role models. She says that, lacking such models, she had to learn about women from D. H. Lawrence, a twentieth century British novelist who wrote about female sexuality. Fear of Flying made an important statement about women’s newly discovered desire for female role models and literary “foremothers.”

Literary Techniques

(Beacham's Encyclopedia of Popular Fiction)

Fear of Flying is structured more tightly than is at first apparent. It begins with Isadora's trip to Vienna with her husband for a...

(The entire section is 141 words.)

Social Concerns

(Beacham's Encyclopedia of Popular Fiction)

The year of Fear of Flying's publication, 1973, can now be seen as the high point of the modern feminist movement's first phase — a...

(The entire section is 167 words.)

Literary Precedents

(Beacham's Encyclopedia of Popular Fiction)

Jong specialized in eighteenth-century literature when she was working towards a doctoral degree at Columbia University, and the most obvious...

(The entire section is 172 words.)

Related Titles

(Beacham's Encyclopedia of Popular Fiction)

Jong traced the further fortunes of Isadora Wing in How to Save Your Own Life (1977) and Parachutes and Kisses (1984). Neither...

(The entire section is 133 words.)


(Masterpieces of American Fiction)

Bevilacqua, Winifred Farrant. Fiction by American Women: Recent Views. Port Washington, N.Y.: Associated Faculty Press, 1983. An edited collection of essays, including one on Fear of Flying by Susan Willis.

Burstein, Janet. Writing Mothers, Writing Daughters: Tracing the Maternal in Stories by American Jewish Women. Urbana: University of Illinois Press, 1996. Examines mother-daughter issues in Jong’s writing as well as that of other American Jewish women writers.

Pearlman, Mickey, ed. A Place Called Home: Twenty Writing Women Remember. New York: St. Martin’s Press, 1996. Includes essays by several women writers, including Jong, on the meaning of home, a theme explored in Fear of Flying.

Reardon, Joan. “Fear of Flying: Developing the Feminist Novel.” International Journal of Women’s Studies 1 (May/June, 1978): 306-320. Reardon analyzes Fear of Flying as an education novel, finding in Isadora’s journey parallels to the journeys of Alice in Wonderland and Dante. She calls attention to Jong’s utilization of images of menstruation (including basing the whole novel on one twenty-eight-day cycle) to signify Isadora’s journey into her own womanhood.

Suleiman, Susan. “(Re)Writing the Body: The Politics and Poetics of Female Eroticism.” In The Female Body in Western Culture. Cambridge, Mass.: Harvard University Press, 1986. Suleiman sees Jong’s novel as a milestone in “sexual poetics” and calls attention to the self-irony in the work and the parodic nature of the obscene language.

Templin, Charlotte. Feminism and the Politics of Literary Reputation: The Example of Erica Jong. Lawrence: University Press of Kansas, 1995. A study of Jong’s feminism and its influence on her works.

Updike, John. “Jong Love.” In Picked-up Pieces. New York: Alfred A. Knopf, 1975. Updike’s rave review, reprinted from The New Yorker, compares Jong to Geoffrey Chaucer’s Wife of Bath. He argues that Jong has invented a new form of female prose and praises her comic gift. The review gave a boost to the novel’s reputation and was often quoted by subsequent writers.