Flight Sherman Alexie Essay

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Time Travel as Character Formation in Sherman Alexie's Flight

"Do you really think I'd become some sort of asshole citizen if I wore a tie and shiny shoes?" This is one of the first things that the main character of Sherman Alexie's latest novel, Flight, says to the social worker in response to her continuing psychobabble and superficial show of interest in his life, and it gives a pretty good idea of his character right from the outset. Zits, as this protagonist identifies himself to the reader, has much in common with other of Alexie's protagonists -- he is fatherless, an Indian (though Zits is not a "legal" Indian due to his father's abandonment, and throughout the novel he witnesses extraordinary levels of violence that have also formed a theme in much of Alexie's work. Zits and Flight are unusual, however, for the role that time travelling and body-inhabiting play in shaping this character and this plot; as Zits contemplates his own moment of violence, he finds himself transported to various eras, events, and personalities associated with violence throughout America's history and undergoes a radical change in character and perspective due to these experiences.

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Zits' contemplation of violence and his feelings of isolation and hatred are understandable given his life history. Denied by his father and thus never accepted into Indian communities, Zits was raised by his hard-drinking Irish mother until she died from cancer when he was only six. Since then, typical tales of foster care abuse, neglect, and attempts to control and define him have led Zits to view all of society and other humans as his natural adversaries. At the moment of the novel's start, Zits is a fifteen-year-old who considers his life to be over.

TOPIC: Essay on Flight Sherman Alexie Assignment

In an attempt to inflict as much pain as he can during his departure form the world, Zits has developed a plan to cause massive deaths on a scale similar to the heavily publicized school and workplace shootings of recent years. By inhabiting the person of an FBI agent who deals death and violence to Indian activists, seeing through the eyes of a flight instructor whose student turned out to be a terrorist, and eventually inhabiting the present-day body of his own homeless and dying father, Zits learns the true effects of violence and what its existence indicates about human beings and their interactions with each other. Simply put, Zits comes to learn that acts of violence are not isolated, and that they have complex and lasting repercussions that could never be negated, mitigated, or rendered just by further acts of violence.

Seeing Through the Eyes of Others

It is not so much the Time Travel that is essential in forming Zits' character as it is the different perspectives he takes on in each different time that challenges his preconceptions and ultimately leaves him more optimistic than he was at the start of the novel. The very first of these transformations shows Zits how important fear is as an instigator of violence. As an FBI agent tasked with slaying radical Indian activists -- radical in the sense that they are demanding a true revolution and a reclamation of land that is theirs through ancestral right and through legal treaties signed by the United States government -- Zits sees that violence leads to more violence, but his learning is more visceral and complex than this pithy cliche allows for. What he sees is that violence creates fear and a recognition of threat, and violence to control this threat is the first impulse for people to turn to.

In a later transformation, Zits finds himself occupying the body and mind of a flight instructor flying in… [END OF PREVIEW] . . . READ MORE

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