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Last Updated on May 20, 2015, by eNotes Editorial. Word Count: 262

The novel's protagonist, Daniel Weinreb, lives in a society that does not meet his spiritual needs. Disch treats his protagonist ruthlessly; Weinreb endures physical, sexual, spiritual, and intellectual debasement. On Wings of Song has the rambling structure often found in Victorian novels, but Disch is explicit about what is to...

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The novel's protagonist, Daniel Weinreb, lives in a society that does not meet his spiritual needs. Disch treats his protagonist ruthlessly; Weinreb endures physical, sexual, spiritual, and intellectual debasement. On Wings of Song has the rambling structure often found in Victorian novels, but Disch is explicit about what is to be learned from the incidents and coincidences that form his story of an indifferent society. Weinreb wants to become a singer so that he may "fly," which in On Wings of Song means to use an electrical apparatus to free the spirit from its body while one sings. While serving time in prison at the age of fourteen for the ridiculous crime of delivering to homes a newspaper that carries advertisements for pornographic movies houses, Weinreb is told how to learn to sing: "Make a mess of your life. The best singers always do." The speaker is Gus, a derelict who sings well, and who offers to coach Weinreb in exchange for sex. Weinreb refuses Gus, but he later submits to homosexual and heterosexual abuse in order to gain what he wants: survival, his wife, to sing, and to "fly." He achieves his desire to sing well, but loses his wife to the lures of "flying," never "flies" himself, and does not survive; he is cut down at the seeming apex of his life by bullets fired by a woman who represents the mindlessness of society. At the end, Weinreb seems more hopeful and less cynical than when he was a youngster; he believes that an unseen force guides him to success.

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