Flight to Canada Summary & Study Guide

Reed, Ishmael
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Flight to Canada Summary & Study Guide Description

Flight to Canada Summary & Study Guide includes comprehensive information and analysis to help you understand the book. This study guide contains the following sections:

This detailed literature summary also contains Quotes and a Free Quiz on Flight to Canada by Reed, Ishmael.

The following version of this book was used to create this study: Reed, Ishmael. Flight to Canada. Atheneum, 1989.

The novel opens with a poem called “Flight to Canada,” written by fictional runaway slave (and the novel’s protagonist) Raven Quickskill. The poem is about his escape from the Virginia estate of slave-owner Arthur Swille. The novel then briefly transitions to the end of the narrative after Swille’s death. Quickskill has returned to Virginia to adapt the life of former slave Uncle Robin into a book. The novel then shifts to just after Quickskill has escaped from Virginia, along with two other runaway slaves, Stray Leechfield and a slave called 40s. Swille complains about the runaway slaves to an elderly slave of Swille’s called Uncle Robin. Swille says that he is determined to recapture the slaves. Swille is then visited by Abraham Lincoln, who needs donations to fund the Union Army in its fight against the Confederacy. Swille is charmed by Lincoln and gives him a large donation. Outside the Swille estate, Lincoln discusses matters with his aide. Lincoln thinks about the slaves he saw on Swille’s estate and decides to make a decree called the Emancipation Proclamation to change the political conversation surrounding the Civil War and to make slavery the main issue in that political conversation.

Swille is informed that a magazine called the Beulahland Review will soon publish a poem by Raven Quickskill called “Flight to Canada” and that Quickskill is living near the Great Lakes. The narrative transitions to Emancipation City, which is in the northern United Sates. It is where Quickskill, Stray Leechfield, and 40s are living. Quickskill is confronted by two agents hired by Swille to capture him. Quickskill eludes the agents and then goes to find Leechfield and 40s to warn them. He finds Leechfield in his office in town. Leechfield is making a living selling his body for sex and posing for pornography. Leechfield says that he is not afraid of Swille because he sent money to Swille to pay for his freedom. Leechfield is unaware that Swille wishes to recapture him and the others. Quickskill then goes to 40s, who answers the door with a shotgun and says that he will go to live in the mountains if the agents try to capture him.

Later, Quickskill receives a letter from the Beulahland Review saying that they wish to publish his poem “Flight to Canada” and that they want to give him a publication fee of 200 dollars. Quickskill becomes excited because he can use that money to actually escape to Canada. Quickskill goes to a dinner party later where he sees a Native American woman called Quaw Quaw Tralaralara. Quickskill and Quaw Quaw used to be lovers, and they reignite their love affair that night. They do so despite the fact that Quaw Quaw is now technically married to a pirate called Yankee Jack. Qucikskill and Quaw Quaw then watch a live television broadcast of a play at the Ford Theatre. Much to their horror, they see someone assassinate Abraham Lincoln. Quickskill tells Quaw Quaw about his plan to go to Canada, and Quaw Quaw says that she wishes to go with him. The narrative then shifts to the estate of Arthur Swille. A slave called Barracuda informs Swille that his wife—Ms. Swille—refuses to eat or get out of bed, as she opposes her husband’s pro-slavery and anti-suffragette views. Swille tells Barracuda to get Ms. Swille out of bed, so Barracuda beats Ms. Swille until she complies.

The narrative then shifts to Lake Erie, where Quickskill and Quaw Quaw are on a boat heading north. Quaw Quaw discovers a poem written by Quickskill that contains awful truths about her husband, Yankee Jack. The poem reveals to her that Jack was the person who attacked her tribe many years ago and killed her family. At the Swille estate, Ms. Swille is visited by the ghost of her dead son, who says that Arthur Swille is to blame for his death. Ms. Swille goes to her husband and kills him by pushing him into a lit fireplace. In the north, Quickskill and Quaw Quaw board a boat that will take them to Canada. Once on board, they find none other than Yankee Jack. Quaw Quaw confronts him about the fact that he killed her family, and he attempts to convince them that what he did was justified. Jack and Quickskill fight, and Quaw Quaw jumps overboard. Jack and Quickskill then commiserate about their mutual loss of Quaw Quaw, and Jack lets Quickskill go ashore in Canada. At Niagara Falls, Quickskill sees Quaw Quaw cross into Canada by walking on a tightrope over the falls. She declares her love for Quickskill.

At a nearby restaurant in Canada, Quickskill and Quaw Quaw see an old friend called Carpenter. Carpenter tells them that from what he has observed, racism in Canada is just as bad as in the United States. Quickskill is crestfallen to hear this, and he and Quaw Quaw later have a heated argument. Quickskill awakens in the morning to a note from Quaw Quaw saying that she has left him for good. At the Swille estate, Arthur Swille’s will is read aloud. Swille bequeaths most of the estate to Uncle Robin. Robin later tells his wife Judy that he doctored the will. Robin contacts Quickskill to ask Quickskill to adapt his (Robin’s) story into a book. Quickskill agrees and returns to Virginia to do so.

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