Style and Technique

(Comprehensive Guide to Short Stories, Critical Edition)

Ellison primarily uses the third-person point of view in “Flying Home,” yet very early he alerts the reader that he will play some tricks with it. While in a state of semiconsciousness, Todd hears voices, not placed in quotation marks, which are both inside his head and outside. Where the voices are coming from, who is speaking, what one intends or perceives, and what biases govern thought and speech—these questions that Ellison raises involve an interrelationship between theme and point of view. When Jefferson speaks of buzzards and black angels, Todd perceives himself as the actor in those roles. When Todd enters the world of his past for the first time, Ellison almost without warning shifts to the first-person point of view and thus places the reader intimately within the mind of his protagonist. It is as though, along with Todd, the reader has difficulty distinguishing between external and inner reality. Todd’s second memory is, on the other hand, clearly noted as his own thoughts. The progression in the story, in fact, is a gradual clearing of Todd’s mind so that by the end he sees clearly both himself and the outer world. Both technically and thematically, point of view comes into focus.

This manipulation of point of view, however, is not nearly as interesting in itself as are its implications in another facet of Ellison’s technique. Typically, Ellison likes his stories to operate on a mythical level. While maintaining a high degree of realism, including psychological realism, Ellison controls characters and events to fit into mythical patterns that universalize them. The story about a young man coming to awareness, for example, is clearly a vision of the initiation motif. His fall from the sky, like the black angel’s condemnation to the hell of Alabama, follows the pattern of death and rebirth. The buzzard that feeds on death is in the final statement of the story “a bird of flaming gold,” perhaps a reference to the phoenix, and certainly a reinforcement of the death-rebirth motif. The identification of Todd with Icarus and Jefferson with...

(The entire section is 847 words.)