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TheCanadian Review of American Studies, Volume VIII, Number I, Spring 1977 IshmaelReed'sCanada Suzanne Henning Uphaus bhmael Reed. Flight to Canada. New York: Random House, 1976. 179 pp. In 1972, just after his best known novel, Mumbo Jumbo, was published, Ishmael Reed talked about the contemporary black American author in an interview: "I'm getting more and more interested in slavery as a metaphor for howblacks are treated in this civilization .... So I say to myself and the rest of usthat we are going to get to our aesthetic Canada, no matter how many dogs they send after us. We'll get there." 1 Four years later Ishmael Reed published Flight to Canada. Ostensibly set in the period of American Negro slavery, this novel gives us ample indication that Reed is also using "slavery as a metaphor for how blacks are treated in this civilization." In contrast to this slavery, both historical and metaphorical, stands the land of ideal freedom and fulfillment, Canada. The main character in Flight to Canada attempts to find refuge from slavery in the United States by escaping to Canada, but he discovers that the historical and contemporary actuality of Canada is far from his ideal. Yet there is, according to Reed, a metaphorical Canada, one which has only tenuous connections with the geographical and political entity which we call bythat name. This other Canada is an aesthetic ideal, not a place but a state of mind in which there is freedom and fulfillment. Thus this novel operates on two planes, the literal (both historical and contemporary), and the metaphorical. The literal level takes up most of the action of the novel, and, on this level, Canada represents the political liberation which it has long conveyed to refugees from the United States. Since 1776 Canada has been a haven for disaffected Americans. Conscientious objectors, from the United Empire Loyalists to the draft dodgers of the 96 sixties, have found a refuge here. Great Indian leaders like Sitting Bull and Chief Joseph of the Nez Perce, fled toward Canada to escape persecution, as does the fictional Chief Bromden in Ken Kesey's One Flew Over the Cuckoo's Nest. But the largest single migration from the United States to Canada has been that of the Negro who has fled American slavery, both literal and metaphorical. In Flight to Canada Ishmael Reed gives us the story of one Raven Quickskill , a slave escaped from the plantation of Arthur Swille, and author of the poem ''Flight to Canada." The ultimate destination of Quickskill is Canada, as the title of the poem indicates, and much of the novel is an account of Quickskill's journey. In Canada Raven expects to find perfect freedomsocial , political, and intellectual. In his poem he tells "Massa Swille" that he is going to be "safe in the arms/ of Canada" (p. 3). He writes: I borrowed your cotton money/ to pay for my ticket & to get/ Me started in this place called/ Saskatchewan Brrrrr! / It's cold up here but least/ Nobody is collaring hobbling gagging j Handcuffing yoking chaining & thumscrewing / You like you is they hobbyhorse Enroute to Canada Quickskill immerses himself in Canadiana. He reads constantly about Canada, and drinks Canada Dry. He avidly watches the evening news for information about Canada, and is gratified when Barbara Walters and Harry Reasoner discuss "the eagle faced and dapper gentleman who is the Canadian Prime Minister and his wife, the former flower child" (p. 69). Wait a minute, you say. Canada Dry? Barbara Walters and Harry Reasoner? Yes indeed. Reed's most obvious method of presenting slavery as a metaphor for the contemporary treatment of Blacks is to present all of his figures and their contexts as both historical and contemporary. Thus the whole novel juxtaposes the pre-Civil War period with the present, the historical actuality of slavery with the contemporary cultural slavery to which Reed feels black Americans, particularly the artists among them, are subjected. The effectis incongruous and entertaining, with Reed constantly ignoring the traditional dictates of historical fiction, telescoping time so that the past and present coalesce. For instance Raven Quickskill and his Indian girlfriend {who demonstrates the historical role of Canada...

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Additional Information

ISSN
1710-114X
Print ISSN
0007-7720
Pages
pp. 95-99
Launched on MUSE
2019-01-02
Open Access
No
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