Todd, a young black man, a candidate in Flight Training School in Macon County, Alabama, during World War II, is just returning to consciousness after an accident. The narrative soon reveals, in one of several flashbacks, that Todd’s “exultation” in flight had carried him away. He had flown “too high and too fast”; the plane had entered a tailspin, and before he could react a buzzard had smashed into his windshield. Panic caused him to lose control. A crash landing has thrown him from the plane and has broken his ankle. Over him stand an old, black farmer, Jefferson, and his son, Teddy. What immediately preoccupies Todd even more than the physical pain in his ankle is the anxiety over his failure as a pilot. His white officers will see the accident as confirmation that blacks are not capable of flying or of aerial combat. Because for Todd, earning his wings and fighting overseas are his escape from social inferiority—and from the stereotypical black traditions that he sees epitomized in Jefferson—the accident is a crisis in his young life. Jefferson instinctively understands much of what Todd is experiencing.
Jefferson sends his son to Dabney Graves, the symbol of white civil authority in the region and the owner of the land that Jefferson works, in order to get help, and then tries to take Todd’s mind off the pain. He first tells him a brief anecdote about once finding two buzzards inside the remains of a dead horse and comments that Teddy’s name for a buzzard is jimcrow. To Jefferson, this identification is both comical and meaningful. He then tells a more lengthy tale about his past life, when he was in Heaven. Though he was a black angel and required to wear a harness, he violated the rule and showed off his extraordinary powers of flight. His daring, however, became dangerous and offensive to God. As punishment,...
(The entire section is 756 words.)