The People Could Fly

by Virginia Hamilton

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What is the genre, author's tone, and conflict of "The People Could Fly"? Is the conflict internal or external?

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"The People Could Fly" is an African American folktale, which was retold by Virginia Hamilton and published in 2004 with illustrations by Leo and Diane Dillon. Folktales are stories passed down orally through generations. This story, which can be found in various forms, as is typical of folktales (and songs), talks about slaves and their oppression and freedom.

The main message of the story is that through reconnecting to their history, mythology, magic, and roots, slaves can find their freedom and survive or resist difficult times. When an old man utters some old, magical words, it reminds the people of their ability to fly, and they escape by flying away. As such, the tone is both sad and hopeful, acknowledging the violence of the slaves’ oppression while celebrating their abilities and the possibilities for liberation.

Internal conflict is found in the expression of the loss of freedom and abilities—the fact that the people have forgotten how to fly and are thus distanced from their own past and history. External conflict is evident in the relationship between the slaves and their cruel overseers.

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The story is a folk tales, or fable. A folk tale is a story passes down through generations, usually orally. This one is an African-American folk tale. It was originally told orally or in song by American slaves. The tone is generally uplifting and the conflict is mostly external, involving escape from slavery. There is an element of magic.

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