Flight to Canada Background

Flight to Canada Background

Published in 1976--the year America was celebrating all the nice history making up its bicentennial--Flight to Canada is a parody or satire or pastiche of the slave narrative by Ishmael Reed that draws attention to the inherent flaws in a genre intended to convey the experience of one culture by being controlled and manipulated by another. Reed himself has termed the book a Neo-Slave Narrative.

The disconnected sense of reality in the slave narrative as a literary genre attempting to tell the story of slavery through transmission of that story controlled by white abolitionists is reflected in the distorted historical reality of the Civil War setting. The assassination of Pres. Lincoln, for instance, occurs live on television and the slaves have access to cable television. Then-contemporary references to people like Barbara Walters and consumer products like Pabst Blue Ribbon beer are purposely introduced as ridiculous anachronisms to underscore the reality that control of the narrative of slaves and their generations of offspring is still in the hands of the dominant white power structure of American society.

The intrusions in the “realism” that most readers come to expect and which seem to deconstruct that very concept actually have the purpose of affirming the reality at the heart of Reed’s approach. That approach to put the history of the slave narrative as authentic truthful accounts under the microscope as well as to point out that slavery is not merely limited to complete bodily subjugation and bondage. The African-American experience is one which has ties to element of slavery as a manifestation of white authority over not just their lives but the approved means of telling the stories of those lives. Flight to Canada seamlessly connects the present narrative of vestigial slavery to the comprehensive submission of slavery in the past.

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