Critical Context (Masterplots II: American Fiction Series)

(Masterpieces of American Fiction)

Flight to Canada has motifs that appear in various forms in all of Reed’s novels. Here, Reed demythologizes a past that has been prejudicial to blacks: the Civil War and the book that allegedly caused it, Uncle Tom’s Cabin. In Yellow Back Radio Broke-Down (1969) and Mumbo Jumbo (1972), Reed exposes two different sides of Christianity, and in The Last Days of Louisiana Red (1974), he exposes the myth of corporate America. As in the other novels, Reed not only debunks what we are, in his eyes, jaded legends, but also tries to create new myths, new perspectives on history, character, and race. There are no untarnished heroes, white or black.

Flight to Canada is also another attempt at the Bildungsroman (earlier examples are The Free-Lance Pallbearers, 1967, and Mumbo Jumbo). The thematic reason for favoring the genre is clear: Reed’s message is the need for awareness, for education. While Reed puts his character through a series of adventures that corrupt him or that educate him in non-Western perspectives, he is shocking the reader into those perspectives as well. The protagonist may be Reed himself coming to awareness. PaPa LaBas in Mumbo Jumbo resembles Reed the teacher and lecturer; Raven Quickskill is a writer finding his way through years of black history in America. As highly individual as Reed is in his approach to the novel form, the wisdom he teaches is that of other black writers; Alice Walker, too (in The Third Life of Grange Copeland, 1970), locates wisdom in a two-headed fortune-teller and in a transformed Grange Copeland: They live in one culture but judge it through the eyes of another.