"Flying" into the Future in Out of This World

Barry J. Fishman '89

The phrase "Out of this world" is used in Out of This World to describe the experience Harry Beech feels whenever he flies. In this respect, flying ("those cloud-oceans" p.38) is to this novel what water imagery is to the rest of Swift's work. Water is alternately painted as an "enemy" and as a means of escape, depending upon the character's point of view. Harry says of his return to light aircraft: "I surfaced again -- or rather, took to the air." (p.37) From his aerial vantage point Harry is able to see his own life the lives of others, and (in theory) the entire past history of his country with greater clarity.

The purpose of Harry's frequent flights into the sky above England are to photograph large sections of the ground in order to probe for traces of agriculture left by Bronze Age cultures that lived in the area. Each flight yields the promise of excitement, a glimpse of a past that is hidden from ordinary ground dwellers. Metaphorically speaking it is fitting that Harry can see the patterns of his life, like the patterns of ancient agriculture, more clearly from the air. As the plane takes off into the air, Harry sees his fiancee Jenny standing on the runway waving. "She is still holding a hand aloft as we bank to head south. And I could almost believe it, could almost be guilty of believing it: the rest of the world doesn't matter. The world revolves round that tinier and tinier figure, as it revolves round a cottage in a tiny village in Wiltshire, where she has taken up residence. That I am home, home." (p.39)

Flight in Out of This World provides more than a clear picture of the past. It provides Harry with a means to leave the past behind. Flying is quite literally a way to move into the future. As the novel ends, Harry describes a time when his father arranged for him to climb inside the cockpit of an old Argosy, one of the first passenger aeroplanes. Sitting in the cockpit Harry felt as if "he had pushed me forward into this wondrous outlook on the sky, had made me a present of it, then discreetly withdrawn. I might soar away; he would remain. . . I can see now that throughout that homeward journey his feet must have been, so to speak, still on the ground, still caught in the mud. And I was being lifted up and away, out of his world, out of the the age of mud, out of the brown obscure age, into the air." (p.208)

Postcolonial Web United Kingdom OV Swift OV Out of This World