Flying Home


"Flying Home": a Living Story. Ralph Waldo Ellison is perhaps one of the most influential African-American writers of the twentieth century. Ellison is best known for writing about such topics as self-awareness, identity, and the racial repression of African-Americans in the United States. His masterpiece, Invisible Man, chronicles the story of a young man striving to find himself in a world where he is hardly noticed. This novel won him much respect in the eyes of the literary community. Earlier in his career, Ellison also wrote many influential short stories. "Flying Home", is one of Ellison?s stories that call the attention of all concerned with the basic essence of human freedom. In "Flying Home", Ellison creates a provocative statement about the Black situation in the south in the 1940?s that is rich with symbolism and personal experience. Born on March 1, 1914, in Oklahoma, Ellison was raised in an environment that promoted self-fulfillment. His father, who named his son after Ralph Waldo Emerson and hoped to raise him as a poet, died when Ellison was three. Ellison?s mother enlisted blacks into the Socialist Party and was also a domestic worker. In the early 1930s, Ellison won a scholarship to Alabama?s Tuskegee Institute, where he studied music until 1936(Busby 10). Later, to earn money for his education (after a mix-up regarding his scholarship), he traveled to New York, where he met Richard Wright and became involved in the Federal Writer?s Project. Encouraged to write a review for New Challenge, a publication edited by Wright, Ellison began composing essays and stories focusing on the strength of the human spirit and the necessity of racial pride. It was during this time that Ellison composed "Flying Home." "Flying Home", is the story of a young man who is one of a very small number of African-American pilots in World War II. The story begins as the young man, named Todd, crashes his trainer plane into a Southern crop field. Injured and unable to move, Todd is helped by one of the field workers, a black man named Jefferson. Todd, a man of the "white" world is overcome by feelings of disgust by the appearance and demeanor of Jefferson. Todd feels physically ill from having to deal with someone of such low class. At this early point in the story the reader wonders why Todd, a black man, would show such terrible feelings toward someone of his own race. This confusion of identity is one of the main themes in the story. Being a flier in the army has made an impact on Todd. Though he has risen above most of his race and become one of a few to join this division of airmen, Todd has entered into a predominantly white world. Everything around him is white-made, white-owned, or white-operated while serving in the army. The impact of his solely being a flier has caused Todd to don a mask, a white mask. He becomes so accustomed to living the white way that he becomes ashamed of his heritage, scared to think about returning to his lower class life. Crashing his plane in the heart of "blackland" is confusing to Todd. He doesn?t know just who he is, since in his mind, acting white was always the right thing to do to get ahead. The fact that he is hardly different than Jefferson bothers him, and plays with his self-image. The image of the mask that Ellison creates is only one of the examples of symbolism that is frequently used in the story. Another profound symbol he uses is the circling buzzards that are always soaring above the field in which Todd crashed his plane. The buzzard is a common symbol in black folklore, representing sometimes the black person scrounging for survival, sometimes his predators, and always the precariousness of life in a predatory society. All these folk associations are active in the references of the buzzards in "Flying Home". The birds are black; Jefferson says that his grandson Teddy calls them ?jimcrows?. Representing not only the black man, Todd, but also the Jim Crow society, they symbolize the destructiveness of both(Bloom 84). Todd thinks of himself as a buzzard when he cries, "Can I help it if they won?t let us actually fly? Maybe we are a bunch of buzzards feeding on a dead horse, but we can hope