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Flight by Sherman Alexie

Updated December 27, 2021
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“But I’m beginning to think I’ve been given a chance. I’m beginning to think I might get unlonely. I’m beginning to think I might have an almost real family” (180). The prior excerpt was quoted from the novel, Flight, written by Sherman Alexie. This specific quote is important to the story because it marked a significant change in the main character, Zits. Flight about the powerful character transformation of a troubled Native American teenager, Michael, nicknamed Zits, because of his overbearing acne. is a book As Zits travelled through time in special “flights” where he encountered a variety of lifechanging experiences, he uncovers important personal characteristics through embodying people in history which transforms his careless demeanor into a more caring one.

Compassion, as displayed by others toward Zits, played an important role in positively changing this delinquent adolescent in a very personal way. A shocking revelation occurred after he repeatedly traveled back in time and then was faced with a critical decision at a bank. On the brink of a mass shooting, Zits realizes how his actions could seriously harm those that are innocent, and he displays compassion by walking away. The act of compassion was also shown when Zits was embodying a young Native American boy living during the time of the Battle of Little Bighorn (64). Through the boy’s memories, Zits learned that his voice box had been cut out by a white soldier (75).

Meanwhile, Zits, as the Native American boy, journeyed with his father to the summit and was told to slit a young American soldier’s throat in an act of revenge. Zits looked down at the scared boy with as much fear in his own eyes as he sees in the victim’s eyes (75). Zits felt compassion for the boy because the young soldier did not take away his voice but was just an unfortunate chosen survivor. Zits embraces compassion by experiencing the life of the Native American boy and learned that revenge is not always the best answer.

Another example of compassion occurred at the end of the novel when Zits’ new foster parents demonstrated love and tenderness toward him and wanted to provide him a better life (176). Zits was shown compassion by his foster parents, Robert and Mary, when they did not react to his ignorance when he responded to the question, “Do you want some oatmeal?” with “Whatever” (175). The couple knew what Zits had experienced in the past, and genuinely felt sorry for him. Learning that Robert and Mary were always there to help and love him showed Zits what compassion truly was.

In addition to compassion, empathy is another quality Zits learned through his “flights” into the lives of others. He discovered that by being able to understand and relate to what others were feeling, he could definitely change his perspective of them. For instance, when Zits was in the body of Jimmy the pilot, he could relate to how Jimmy’s wife, Linda, felt when she caught Jimmy with another woman (117). Zits understood how Linda was feeling because he had experienced similar emotions in his life. He knew that she felt sad and abandoned, exactly his feelings when his mother died and his father left him. Jimmy went home to try to talk to his wife but was greeted with a lawn covered with mini airplanes, photos with him torn out, magazines and CD’s and his wife weeping on the porch (121).

Zits, as Jimmy, walked up to Linda and tried to talk to her, but she pulled out a pistol and aimed it right at him. The gun was not loaded, and Linda only wanted to scare Jimmy (125). Zits understood that Jimmy wished he were dead because he knew that Jimmy hoped the pistol was loaded and that Linda would just shoot him. Zits learned empathy from this encounter because he could relate to Linda’s feelings. When Zits watched this event through Jimmy’s eyes, he comprehended that Jimmy was a liar and a cheat. In his own life, he compared his father to Jimmy because they had similar characteristics. This interaction with Linda was an example of empathy because Zits could relate to her and the pain she felt.

The third important character trait Zits learned throughout his journeys was the lesson of sympathy, which is being able to feel bad for another’s misfortune. As Zits went through time, he embodied an Indian tracker named Augustus “Gus” Sullivan who was leading the soldiers to the Indian camp (84). While Zits travels as Gus to the camp, he feels Gus’s need for revenge, and therefore leads the cavalry in an attack. While watching the battle, Zits notices a young Native American boy with a bow desperately trying to defend himself; Zits called him Bow Boy. Sickened, Zits is determined to help the innocent child escape the warfare (92).

Feeling sympathy for the boy, he moves over towards him just as a young American soldier swoops in and chases Bow Boy. The American soldier, dubbed Small Saint, picks up Bow Boy and runs towards the trees (93). Still determined to help, he allows the two boys to leave without him, so they could escape the soldiers pursing them. Zits feels pity and sorrow for Bow Boy and Small Saint’s misfortune and wanted to help them even if it meant that he had to betray Gus’ position in the army. In Flight, Zits hollers “You have to save him! I shout. ‘Save the kid’” (104), and clearly demonstrates feelings of sympathy and the urge to help the innocent escape. Through this lesson of sympathy, Zits feels pity and concern for the boys which also changes him inwardly.

The different lessons of empathy, compassion and sympathy that Zits experienced when embodying the historical characters helped to change him into a better person when he applied them in his own life. While he was in jail, he exhibited the lesson of empathy when he and Officer Dave cried together for the lost lives of the two children found dead when Officer Dave was responding to a 911 call (168). Having Officer Dave in his life taught Zits many life lessons, and Dave was an excellent role model displaying the values of openness, acceptance and caring. At first, Zits treated his new foster parents with the same attitude as the previous ones, but when he realized that Officer Dave was not just leaving him to this new couple, his approach changed (175).

Zits used the experiences from the different transformations to become a better person. He begins to trust the adoptive parents and realizes their kindness and compassion for him are genuine. From Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie’s TED Talk, she spoke about the dangers of a single story, a bias; a single view of someone or something (Adichie) “Single stories” can be harmful and inaccurate because the stories have usually one view. Being able to see past the “single story” is important to today’s world because it is better to understand both sides of the story (Adichie).

Flight is a single story about a boy nicknamed Zits who called himself Zits because of his extreme acne. People assumed he was a trouble making, Native American boy who could not find a real family (7). At the end of the book, he called himself by his real name Michael, because his single story was taken away. He wanted to be called Michael, he respected his new foster parents, and learned there was more to life than loneliness and anger (181). Once Zits got past his own “single story” and others saw past it as well, he was Michael, a Native American boy who had learned to accept himself and now believed he was loved and could feel love.

These lessons can be extended to the here and now because the qualities of compassion, empathy, and sympathy, along with being able to see both sides of a situation are aspects of a person that can be developed, personally. Applying what Zits learned to today’s society might help to create a better understanding of others and an awareness that a story has more than one side. In Flight, Zits experienced many feelings and learned various lessons as he travelled through history. Compassion, sympathy, and empathy are lessons that many have also encountered, since personal interactions in the here and now are often occurring. While most may not have the chance to embody different historical figures in order to develop these three character traits, there are still lessons that are being taught by: putting one’s self into another’s shoes, having complex human interactions through technology, and making friendships and networking with a diverse population.

The author, Sherman Alexie, used the traits of compassion, empathy and sympathy to explain the journey of Zits. Through the many transformations as characters in history, he experienced a positive change that helped him find his real identity and look past his “single story.” In Flight, Zits learned to forgive himself for the many delinquent acts he had committed, and he slowly accepts the person he has become. Because of the characters he embodied in the story, he eventually understands what it means to care for others and to be cared for. In the end, the final foster parents he was placed with showed him love and compassion which helped him to become a better person and ultimately to become Michael.

Flight by Sherman Alexie essay

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Flight by Sherman Alexie. (2021, Dec 27). Retrieved from https://samploon.com/flight-by-sherman-alexie/

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