Last Updated on July 29, 2019, by eNotes Editorial. Word Count: 293
Todd is a young black man attending the Flight Training School in Macon County, Alabama, during World War II. The story is told from his point of view in several flashbacks. Todd is waking up after an accident in which his plane entered a tailspin when a vulture crashed into his windshield. Todd is thrown clear of the crash, but he breaks his ankle. He then worries his white officers will see his accident as evidence that black people are not capable of flying planes or being combat pilots.
Jefferson is an older black farmer who aids Todd after the crash. Todd sees him as a symbol of all that black people are trapped by and must escape, even while Jefferson senses the fear that Todd has of white people, especially white expectations and stereotypes of black people. At the same time, Jefferson must pander to such stereotypes himself. He tells Todd a long story about his past life, claiming he was once a black angel in heaven wearing a harness. He dared to take off the harness and show off his great powers of flight, and God punished him by taking away his wings and sending him to Macon County, Alabama.
Teddy is Jefferson's son. He aids Todd alongside his father.
Dabney Graves is the wealthy white landowner for whom Jefferson works. Jefferson warns Todd about Dabney, and Todd eventually awakens from a state of delirium to find Dabney and two hospital attendants placing a straitjacket—meant for Dabney's cousin Rudolph—on him as a cruel prank. The men then begin to carry Todd away on a stretcher, but Todd resists, prompting Dabney to kick him in the chest before ordering Jefferson and Teddy to take him back to the airfield.
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