Fly Away Peter- Character Jim Essay, Research Paper
We understand the themes of a novel through the growth of a central character. Discuss with detailed reference to Fly Away Peter.
The question of human identity and our role within the universe has always been a source of great debate and much contemplation. The quest to discover the essence of our humanity is one of central concern in the novel Fly Away Peter by David Malouf. Through the central character s voyage of realisation, we are confronted with a deeply philosophical approach to the meaning of life and death. Whilst on the surface appearing very simplistic and straightforward, multiple themes are intertwined in the framework of the narrative. Jim Sadler s journey of self discovery provides a vehicle for the author to deliver his powerful messages portraying the transient nature of our existence. Specifically this is demonstrated through Jim s experiences in relation to the insignificance of individual life, the inevitability of death and the unstoppable movement of time. Fly Away Peter also explores the gender stereotype of the soldier and the influences of our experiences upon our sense of self, as Jim s military service essentially develops his inner consciousness.
In the opening section of the novel we are acquainted with the naive and innocent Jim Sadler, a stereotypical working class Australian youth at the beginning of the twentieth century. Through his acceptance of the wealthy land owner, Ashley Crowther s, offer of a job observing birds on his property, Jim is presented with security and a sanctuary in which he feels comfortable and safe. For Ashley, what is a seemingly trivial offer is a significant turning point in Jims life, providing Jim with, for the first time, direction and purpose. This is demonstrated in
Jim, who till then had been merely drifting, and might have drifted as far as the city and become a mill-hand or a tram conductor, saw immediately the scope of it and felt his whole life change. (Page 4)
All the possibilities that for the past two years had tugged and nagged at him- city, marriage, drink the sullenness and hard-jawed resentment of moths that were all Sundays- Suddenly hauled off and lifted. He was made free of his own life. (Page 5)
Jim s passionate interest in birds provides his life with a clear focus point, giving him a perhaps unreal feeling of control over his destiny. The birds are symbolic of the harmonious balance of nature and assist in the establishment of a serene, verging on surreal atmosphere. This is shown in
but back, far back, into some pre-classical, pre-historic, primeval and haunted world.. in which the birds pointed out, and might almost have been calling up as he named them in a whisper out of the mists before creation, were extravagantly disguised spirits of another order of existence (Page 30)
However, even in this seemingly perfect and harmonious existence, dark undertones are present in Jim s relationship with his father. It is through this family connection that Jim first questions his position in the world.
What does it mean, Jim had wanted to ask, the likes of us? Except for the accidental link of blood he saw nothing in common between his father and himself and resented the cowardly acceptance of defeat that made his father feel this change in his fortunes as a personal affront. (Page 5)
Jim s father s dull savagery is representative of a side of humanity that Jim is extremely fearful of, not because he feared to be its victim in the physical sense- but because he didn t want to be infected. (Page 6) This can be taken to be Jim s first exposure to the dark side of humanity. It also demonstrates that even in what can be seen as an almost paradise like existence, the presence of the primitive instinct of fear always remains in the background.
The declaration of war whilst Jim is in Brisbane plays a significant role in Jim s development. Whilst the atmosphere is still one of predominantly innocence, a strong sense of predestinate fate surrounding the war can be felt.
Jim felt the ground tilting to the place where the war was, and felt the drag of all those deaths. The time would come when he wouldn t be able any longer to resist. He would slide with the rest. Down into the pit. (Page 55)
It is in this period of time that Jim s aura of naivety begins to fade. The realisation that whilst innocence may hold a certain romantic charm, essentially you discover your identity through experiences, is apparent in Jim. This need to experience something on a personal level emphasises the curious nature of humankind and is a deciding factor in Jim s enlistment as a soldier, clearly evident in the phrase
If he didn t go, he would never understand, when it was over, why his life and everything he had known were so changed, and nobody would be able to tell him. He would spend his whole life wondering what had happened to him and looking into the eyes of others to find out. (Page 55)
This highlights that Jim s decision to join the army in influenced more by the overwhelming and all consuming reality of the war that Jim feels he must confront, than because of any patriotic feelings or inner convictions.
Jim is also influenced by the expectations of masculinity that are entrenched in being a soldier. The changes in Jim after his visit to Brisbane are very subtle, but at the same time should not be dismissed. These understated implications can be seen in where for two days now he had been nursing the beginning of a moustache. (Page 42) However, it is not until Jim is fully engaged in the war that these examples become blatant and straightforward.
They stayed eleven days themselves, and though the smell did not lessen, they ceased to notice it, it was their own They were soldiers like the rest. They were men. (Page 79)
This also demonstrates the immediate loss of innocence caused by experiencing the realities of war. This loss of innocence is representative of the transition from boy to man, which is uncontrollably hastened by the harsh lifestyle in the trenches.
The trenches of World War I provide binary opposition and are directly juxta posed to the safe, secure environment of the Queensland sanctuary. Malouf utilises the war as a vehicle for the exploration of the darker side of human nature, the frontline being the epitome of man s destructive disposition. It is in this setting that the exploration of the core themes surrounding the transient quality of our lives is exposed. Through the witnessing of numerous atrocities and the death of many of his comrades, Jim is forced to confront the dark side of human nature he fears. He likens these experiences to as if he had taken a wrong turning in his sleep, arrived at the dark side of his head, and got stuck there. (Page 58)
Through his relationships with characters around him Jim makes many important discoveries about himself. Jim s encounter with Wizzer in a shell hole amidst a raging battle is an influential factor in his growth. Through Wizzer, Jim uncovers the murderous destruction hidden within him, this same destructiveness that Jim recognises, and fears, in his father. In the shell hole Jim comes to terms with this fear, recognising this destructive nature as being embodied in his unconscious, a universal characteristic of humans. Nevertheless, Jim triumphs over his internal darkness, refusing to succumb to the limiting nature of his conditions and the accompanying hopeless and despair. Wizzer is constructed to be an example of the consequences of surrendering hope, a crucial characteristic of being human.
His whole body was being shaken as by other, invisible hands. Jim could have scrambled away without difficulty then, but was held. He felt a terrible temptation to join Wizzer it would be so liberating. But some sense of shame- for Wizzer, but also for himself- held him back from that (Page 92)
This meaningful passage emphasises of the indomitable nature of the human spirit, helping to create meaning and purpose to our existence.
Jim s relationship with the character of Eric assists in questioning the very structure of our society and the values that underpin our lives. Through Eric the monstrous question of the structure of the world they lived in and where they belonged in it, about who had power over them and what responsibility those agencies could be expected to assume (Page 85) is posed. This question, relating directly to the fundamental themes of the novel, and the realisation that there is no clear answer, frightens Jim and causes him to reflect, once again, on his purpose in the world. This is demonstrated in
Outside, for the first time since he was kid, Jim cried it was as if he had been taken over by some impersonal force that was weeping through him- by the harshness of his own sobs. (Page 87)
It is through the war that the narratives major themes of life and death are addressed. Jim s exposure to the atrocities of war assists in his journey to self discovery and realisation of the world around him. Ironically, he arrives at his conclusions concerning the meaning of life directly before his death. This is summarised exquisitely by the passage
His own life, neither more nor less important than the rest, even in his own vision of the thing, but unique because it was his head that contained it and in his views that all these balanced lives for a moment existed. (Page 117)
Jim has come to grips with the insidgnificance of individual life. This state of calmness and inner peace almost leads the reader to be expectant of Jim s death. It is in Jim s final moments that he to recognises the inevitability of death, and through careful manipulation his death is viewed as more of a resolution to the novel, than a sad and pointless event.
They were a brotherhood. They had spent their whole life thus, a foot from the block and waiting, even in safe city streets and country yards, even at home in Australia. (Page 121)
Jim s acceptance of his death not only provides reflection on the inescapable occurrence of death, but also on the unstoppable movement of time and our inability to control our destinies. When taken from a larger perspective, the inevitable continuation of nature is evident. The very fact that time does not stand still for one person is representative of the eternal cycle of life and death, held by nature in a careful state of balance. The transient nature of our lives within the great scheme of things and perpetuality of time is unmistakable. Man, in his death, is seen to be as one with nature, reverting to the earth from which he came. Through death, mankind is united with a common purpose.
So Jim dug along with the rest. The earth was rich and warm, it smelled of all that was good And there was, after all, time, however far it might be It might be, Jim thought, what hands were intended for, this steady digging into the earth, as wings were meant for flying over the curve of the planet to another season. (Page 128)
Malouf s Fly Away Peter questions the role of the individual within the great and boundless universe by providing an insight into the human mind. Through the life and death of a central character, our purpose within the world is queried, attacking the very heart of our existence. The novelist portrays mankind as being unique presences, shaped by our relationships and experiences, but ultimately controlled and brought together by the eternal cycle of nature. The reader is left to contemplate these ideas, placing them in the context of their own lives. Life is, in itself, a voyage of self discovery, and through Jim s journey we come to better understand, and accept, death, gain increased awareness of the insignificance of individual life and are exposed to the transient nature of our existence.