Confinement in the Book 'People Could Fly' by Virginia Hamilton

Published: 2022-03-01
Confinement in the Book 'People Could Fly' by Virginia Hamilton
Type of paper:  Literature review
Categories:  Slavery American literature
Pages: 4
Wordcount: 870 words
8 min read

The main problem in the book 'People Could Fly' by Virginia Hamilton is the confinement and enslavement of the African people. The African people lived in their homeland gifted with various abilities and enjoyed their freedom. At some point, they lose their abilities and powers when they are captured and enslaved. The enslaved Africans are demeaned and persecuted; they lose their cultural identity, humanity, and freedom. The author's choice of language and form affect the tension during the development and intensification of the story.

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Firstly, the writer's use of Toby's magic words affects the problem in the plot. Without the use of Toby's magic words, the Africans would never remember how to fly. The magic words profoundly build the issue of confinement in the text. The magic words are symbolic of the African cultures that have eroded through slavery. After enslavement of the African people, they were not allowed to speak their language and practice their customs. The story builds up with the enslaved Africans losing their powers and ability to fly. It is depicted when the author quotes that they could not breathe the sweet scent of Africa any longer (p.3). Toby is a character who is used to reconnect the Africans with their erased past. He uses magic words to reawaken their powers. When hope appears lost to Sarah, Toby appears and brings back her rising powers. The author uses imagery successfully to show how Sarah and her baby soar into the clouds like a superwoman and a super baby. The next time, Toby rescues the people collapsing due to heat by whispering his magic words "Kum ... yali, Kum buba Tambe" to each of them and they fly away too. Toby then shouts his words to the remaining people and also flies away. Though there are still a bunch of the African slaves who are left behind, there is some hope that they will become free at some point.

The writer extensively employs symbolism through the use of the people in the story who cannot fly. The people who could fly are the ones who could affect and contribute to the problem in the story. The people who cannot fly deserve a little more attention. They represent the enslaved. Those who could fly portrayed a fantasy of some sort and their dream of magically moving out of the terrible lives of enslavement. However, it is a dream. In the text, it described as "like the people who could fly, the people who cannot fly forcefully endured atrocious suffering, however, their only hope of escaping was waiting for a chance to run away" (p.29). The author makes it clear that the symbol of flying away from enslavement is only a fantasy. Moreover, the lawmakers who carry on with the plot are the ones who talk about people who could fly to their children (p.32). They pass on this inspirational story to their future generations. The people who fly do not need the tale, after all, they are already free. The African people who are still enduring and navigating in slavery and racism are the ones who need to hold on, which is what the story entails.

The power of flight which is metaphorically used affects the tension in the story. In this text, flying symbolizes freedom. At the beginning of the story, the Africans can walk up in the air which is likened to climbing up a gate (p.1). The image created by someone who can fly over a gate depicts people who love freedom. The gates in the story stand for containment. If the people could climb up a gate means, there is no containing of these people. However, in a turn of events they lose these powers through enslavement, but eventually, they regain their abilities and fly away to freedom (p.27). What the story drives at is that they will not remain captured forever; they will fly away to freedom. Their power of flight affects the tension of enslavement. Further, their skills are metaphorically hidden as a seven-layer dip. Back in their homelands (Africa), they had wings, but they were forcefully made to shed them owing to the overcrowded slave ships (p.2). Nevertheless, their wings do not return even after regaining their power of flight. In simpler terms, the African people who are enslaved and oppressed are not based on what they look like. Instead, their power remained barred from visual observation. In the story, they are demeaned, persecuted because of the color of their skin, which makes their power hidden. Though they have been dehumanized, they eventually reveal they're true self. They achieve this by taking a flight and reconnecting with the abilities and powers they always possessed. In other words, they cannot be beaten down. Their spirit and humanity are strong enough that it cannot be crushed.

Conclusively, the writer uses illustrations and a language that powerfully explains the fantasy tale of African slaves who faced the tension of enslavement, but their ancient powers enabled them to fly away to freedom. Although all the slaves do not fly away, those who remained still believed they would regain the liberty.

Work Cited

Hamilton, Virginia. The people could fly: American Black folktales. Vol. 1. Knopf Books forYoung Readers, 1985.

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Confinement in the Book 'People Could Fly' by Virginia Hamilton. (2022, Mar 01). Retrieved from

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