Flight Summary and Analysis of Chapters 16-18


Chapter 16

Zits wakes to see a rat, from which he rolls away in disgust. He passes through garbage and dog excrement before painfully striking a dumpster, after which he vomits undigested food and liquor. When he sees blood in the vomit, he knows he is “certainly a street drunk, a loser whose belly is torn apart by booze” (132). He vomits again, and then hears someone calling out to him.

A young white couple approaches to ask if he is okay. Immediately, he asks them his age and race. The woman, Pam, tells him he is an Indian in his fifties. She can tell he is Indian by his braids and by his t-shirt, which has a picture of Geronimo with the caption “Fighting Terrorism Since 1492” (133). The woman introduces her boyfriend Paul to Zits, and they banter back and forth until Zits vomits again. Paul tells Zits he is in Tacoma, near Seattle, and that the year is 2007 - the same year that the novel began. When Zits vomits more blood and cannot stand, Pam calls 911.

Zits can feel that this new body does not want help, since it shambles away despite Pam and Paul’s protests. As he imagines them describing this incident to friends, Zits grows angry and starts cursing them for their kindness. He accuses them - as representatives of white people in general - of being responsible for his condition: “White people did this to Indians. You make us like this” (136). Though unsure whether he truly believes this, Zits knows the man he inhabits certainly feels this way. Pam suggests he wait there until the ambulance arrives, but he spurns her kindness, doubting that any help will actually arrive.

Instead, he condescendingly propositions Pam for sex. She has to pacify Paul, who grows progressively angrier as Zits continues to insult her. Zits is struck by the way Paul listens to her, the way they respect one another, while he is all the while attempting to destroy her with his rage. But this virtue angers Zits even more, and he questions Paul about his sex life with Pam. Finally fed up, Paul punches him in the face.

Chapter 17

His jaw possibly broken, Zits stumbles away into an alley, past other homeless Indians scavenging through the trash. He feels resentful of these other men, who are more concerned with their own pain than with his. He wants them to pay attention to him.

Zits is not certain how he made it into the alley; he has lost time. He wants to find a bathroom and clean himself up, and he imagines stealing good clothes, hoping a good outfit will make him into a good man. Once he collects his pride, he struts back out into the street, his head held high.

People there scurry away from him, frightened by his bloodied appearance. Aloud, he says “I want some respect,” but nobody acknowledges or understands him (141). A man with a cell phone accidentally bumps into and then ignores Zits.

Angered, Zits follows the man, repeating, "I want some respect." Finally, the man with a cell phone hangs up and speaks patronizingly to Zits, calling him "chief" (141). When the man tries to walk away, Zits grabs him and the man slams him against the wall. He demands Zits act like a gentleman, which Zits agrees to do so long as he is afforded respect. When the man questions how to show Zits respect, Zits asks for a story, something personal and secret.

The man with a cell phone tells Zits about his daughter’s parrot, which is named Harry Potter. When his daughter asked for a pet, he and his wife chose a parrot because they were told the birds produced less excrement than other animals. The parrot proved to be a beloved family pet, who often sat on the man's shoulder while he cooked. One day, he was boiling water when the bird jumped into the pot, scalding itself. The family rushed the bird to the veterinary hospital, where it was soon hooked up to an oxygen machine. There, the man laughed at the absurdity of the situation, to the horror of his wife and child. He admits to Zits that he did love that bird, and that his family is not speaking to him. Instead, they are disappointed with him, and he feels ashamed for having laughed.

Zits shares his condolences, but the man tells him to keep his “sorrow to himself“ (149). Zits acknowledges that he feels respected, but asks to see a picture of the man's daughter. As the man complies, he asks whether Zits has children, and Zits, interested, takes out his new body's wallet to check.

He is shocked to find a picture of himself as a five-year-old in the wallet. As the man with a cell phone leaves, Zits looks at himself in the mirror of a nearby truck to realize that he is in the body of his father.

Chapter 18

Zits feels both disgusted and elated at once - he wants to kill the body he inhabits, but has waited his entire life to meet his father. He now has a chance to learn why his father left him, but is quite confused to see that his father carries a picture of him. He alludes to Hamlet and the "father love and father shame and father rage" that he and the character have in common (151).

Zits tries to probe the body's memories, but his father fights the interference. Because he is younger and stronger, he triumphs to discover a memory of his father in the waiting room while Zits was born in another room. The father was nervous and upset, and rudely placed his hand over a nurse's face when she tried to calm him down. Eventually, his father realized he was sick and damaged, and left.

Zits then discovers a different memory, of his eight-year-old father lying in bed while his father (Zits's grandfather) aggressively asked whether the boy had brought meat home. Zits's father was nervous because he had not brought meat, and because his father was a bully. Though he imagines killing the man, Zits's father told the truth and was then forced to repeat "I ain't worth shit" until he came to believe his own words (155).

It was this memory that was in Zits's father's mind as he ran from the waiting room. In his memory, he closes his eyes. In the present, Zits too closes his own.


Unlike in his other transformations, Zits does not know whose body he enters for a while. Instead, he is forced to rely on Pam's judgment of his appearance to determine that he is Indian and in his fifties. Interestingly, Pam deduces his race from his t-shirt and hair, not from his skin tone or physical features. The moment reminds us of Zits's preoccupation with appearance, but it also up-ends his expectations.

Zits is again in control of his new body, although his thoughts and actions are colored by his father's fears, prejudices, and convictions. In particular, his father offers one of the novel's most extreme instances of contemporary race resentment. Pam and Paul show an unsolicited concern, but nevertheless serve as a scapegoat for the father's anger. Clearly, Zits's father blames his misfortunes on white society. In this way, he feels similarly to how Zits feels at the beginning of the novel, although his hatred has been strengthened by additional years of alcoholism and despair.

And similar to the feelings Zits feels, these feelings are not as clear-cut as the father might believe. What bothers him most is not any instance of cruelty, but the respect that Pam and Paul show one another. As Pam refuses to be baited by his lewd aggression, he grows even angrier. In many ways, what is happening is that his anger is being reflected back onto himself; he is unable to take responsibility for his own pain, and so pushes the envelope until Paul's violence ends the situation. Rather than face the possibility that he is responsible for his own attitude, he forces the man to strike him. Pam and Paul are an unwelcome reminder of all that he has lost, a potentially happy family life.

To build dramatic pacing, Alexie allows the situation to unfold at a leisurely pace. Zits experiences a day in the life of his father as a depraved, homeless alcoholic, not realizing his identity until the end of the episode. Unsurprisingly, this is his final lesson. Throughout the novel, Zits has faced the fact that all humans are capable of hatred, resentments, violence, and confusion, in the process slowly coming to forgive himself and others. The topmost villain in his life is the father who abandoned him, so naturally, this is his final test. Like a doppelganger, Zits’s father represents what could happen to him if he continues living a destructive, hateful life. To empathize with and forgive his father are his final obstacles towards achieving serenity.

And ultimately, both Zits and his father are tortured by a very basic desire for respect. When the father repeats "I want some respect" over and over, it evokes Zits's phrase "I want attention" from Chapter 1. Both want to be respected, and believe that improving their appearances might help. In the same way that Zits yearns for a clearer complexion, his father wants nicer clothing. And because they cannot have those things, they resent those who do. In the same way Zits hates the rich Indians who ignore him, his father hates the man with a cell phone, whose nice suit and dignified bearing only remind the Indian of what he does not have.

Of course, in keeping with the lessons Zits learns repeatedly, even this man faces the prospect of a broken family. His story about the parrot reveals how all humans can cause themselves trouble through moments of cruelty. Even though this man has a better chance of reconnecting with his family than Zits's father does, he does offer a reminder that everyone has the potential to ruin his life.

Ultimately, this episode suggests the import of father figures in our lives. Note the allusion to Shakespeare’s Hamlet, and Alexie’s comment on “father shame.” Hamlet is tortured by a conflux of conflicting emotions - he wants to kill his uncle to avenge his father, but also arguably resents his father for having been with his mother. The allusion suggests the depth of Zits's complicated feelings, and the pain that a father can cause. Both Zits and his own father have been corrupted by the behavior of their fathers. But where Zits's father allowed those fears to control him - leading him out of the hospital room - Zits has been blessed with this journey which has offered him perspective, teaching him that does not have to be controlled by his fears and resentments. How he applies these lessons is the subject of the novel's final chapters.