Symbolism in Fly Away Peter

Fly Away Peter, by David Malouf, details not only the horrors of war, but the beauty of innocence found in Australian wildlife. In essence, Malouf expresses the concept of binaries, in particular the contrast between innocence and experience, and what it means to be alive. The novel explores the life of Jim Saddler and his love for Australian wildlife, in particular birds, which Malouf then contrasts with his experience in the First World War, in which he subsequently dies. Malouf, through a variety of techniques, including recurring symbols, changes in place, imagery, and changes in time, is able to convey the central ideas of the binary of life, and how it is ultimately meaningless.

Malouf utilizes symbolism to explore how the peace and innocence found within nature greatly contrasts the horror of experience found in war, but that both are needed to be whole. Throughout the novel Jim discusses the movement of the birds he observes, such as the little wood sandpipers that appear each summer and come, […], from [overseas]. Through this symbolism, Malouf expresses his belief that in nature birds migrate innocently and peacefully, without any destructive motive. Malouf contrasts this idea with the symbol of the biplane, highlighting the ugliness with which mankind tries to replicate the beauty of nature. The bi-plane, a clumsy shape [that lifts] itself out of an invisible paddock and makes slow circuits in the air, is man’s attempt at replicating a bird’s flight, which has now become an instrument of war. Malouf points out that there is a parallel between the innocence of a bird’s migration, and man’s destructive motive for movement. It is through the symbolic binary of birds and planes that Malouf conveys his idea that life is comprised of both innocence and experience.

Malouf also utilizes the change in setting within the novel, detailing the natural beauty of Australia and the nightmarish hell of life in the trenches, to contrast the ideas of innocence and experience. When Ashley returns to Australia after visiting England, he observes the mixtures of powdery blues and greens [and] the sense [the landscape gave of] offering no prospect of [ever] being finished. It is through this imagery that Malouf reinforces the idea that the ultimate innocence can be found in nature, and it’s beauty is one of the greatest pleasures of life. Malouf contrasts this idea with imagery of the trenches, rotting planks, mud impregnated with gas, decaying corpses […] all ragged and black, changing the setting to the horrors of the war zone to emphasis the idea of how experience can completely change our perspective of the world we live in. It is through Malouf’s expert use of change in places that the idea of the two binaries of life, innocence and experience, are reinforced.

Malouf incorporates a change in time to address the concept of what it means to be alive, and the part time plays in this. Towards the end of the novel, Malouf fast forwards to address the feelings of Imogen, and it is here that the novel comes full circle. Imogen states that everything had changed. The past would not hold and could not be held, and it is through this statement that Malouf conveys the bleak idea that time moves forward, and that everything it leaves behind is meaningless. However, this is not the the only message that Malouf conveys. The idea that life is forever changing presents some comfort through the promise that new and beautiful things will always surface, such as the surfer Imogen observes, a youth walking – no running on the surface, to convey the cycle of life, which must not be wasted. Malouf also includes retrospect, this time reinforcing the idea that life is meaningless. As Jim recalls a kestrel trapped by a sardine can, he remembers how he wept […] at the cruelty of the thing, the mean and senseless cruelty. In this statement Malouf expresses the idea that this is how [life is], even in the sunlight, even in the beauty of nature there is cruelty enacted by humans, such as war, and this reinforces the idea of the meaninglessness of life. Indeed, it is through the use of the change in time that Malouf presents his idea of the binary of life, and through the contrasting concepts of innocence and experience, that life is essentially meaningless.

Malouf utilizes symbolism, such as the tilting of the earth and the surfer, to contrast the innocence and experience of life, and convey his idea that life simply is. In Brisbane, Jim observes that the attitude towards the war ( the ground before him, that had [before] stretched away into the clear future) suddenly tilted [towards] Europe. Through this symbolism, Malouf expresses his concerns regarding the war, and how it robbed the lives of many soldiers in a meaningless and violent way. This ‘landslide’ Malouf speaks of expresses the naivety with which soldiers went off to war, and the tragedy in their death. Malouf concludes with the symbol of the surfer, a mere dot on the sunlight water, [he] miraculously rise[s], and [repeats] the whole performance. This image gives hope to the reader, conveying that the cycle of life is beautiful, and both experience and innocence are needed to live a comprehensive life like Jim’s. Certainly, Malouf utilizes the symbolism and the way the text ends to highlight the binary of nature and the need for humans to have both innocence and experience.

David Malouf’s Fly Away Peter is so much more than a war novel. Through his use of techniques such as recurring symbolism, the change in setting, imagery, and the change in time, Malouf contrasts the beauty of Australian nature and the horrors of World War One in a profoundly eloquent manner. Malouf urges the reader to not live in a state of dangerous innocence, but accept the beauty and the ugliness of life as ultimately life is meaningless, but the time we that we do have is an incredible gift.

Fly Away Peter and the Significance of Suffering

In Fly Away Peter, David Malouf presents both physical and mental suffering through portraying the experiences of Eric and Jim, emphasizing both the acute and chronic suffering that the soldiers experienced as a consequence of war. Immediately, it is clear that Eric has been psychically injured through war, as he is unable to walk – this is the suffering that is to be expected, due to the violence and danger of the battlefield. However, with his physical suffering meaning that his independence has consequently been taken away, his injury is also symbolic in the way he can no longer act as autonomously as he could previously.

Eric’s lack of independence and ability to care for himself acts as a grim contrast to the patriotic, picturesque idea of the war that many young men signed up for – expecting the outcome to be medals and honor, not disability and having to be ‘helped into a chair’. It is also implied that Eric is suffering mentally in the way he seems to have a nervous disposition, implying that he has shell shock, or PTSD. The ‘fine line of sweat’ that ‘drops on the boy’s upper lip’ shows his constant state of anxiety, with the use of ‘boy’ acting as a reminded of the young age of some of the soldier who were killed or injured during WWI. This image in fact links to the poem “Conscious” by Wilfred Owen, which addresses the idea of PTSD but also the distance the soldier feels from home, even having returned, due to the pictures of war that they can’t shake. Although Eric is physically away from the battle, his find is still there and will always be there as he won’t be able to wake up without seeing the horrors that occurred on his own body.

However, his suffering is more prevalent in the way we are informed that despite everything, Eric’s main fear is being forgotten, shown by the line “What scared him was that people might simply walk off and forget him altogether”. He physically can’t walk to follow anyone, but he also symbolically can’t keep up with everyone else. Their lives are set to continue after the war, but he will forever remain in the same place, unable to progress in the way that he could have before getting injured; He will always be caught in the perpetual suffering of the war. Eric is afraid of becoming nameless, just another injured soldier, in the same way so many were just names on a memorial, and being forgotten. The repetition of “Wilya come again, Jim”, show his desperation not to be left alone, relying on the loyalty of his friend to ensure that he isn’t forgotten. This is why it’s particularly upsetting that Jim takes the form of his fear in the way he promises to come back and visit, “but knew guiltily that he would not”, Eric voice calling him is ‘aggrieved’, making Jim feel guilt for leaving his friend behind, his own personal anguish prohibiting him from keeping his promise, while physically turning and walking away symbolizes him being forced to turn his back on Eric. The brotherhood between the two has been severed, due to the pain that are both experiencing preventing them from seeing each other anymore.

Malouf goes on to focus on the contrast between youth and old age in order to emphasize the suffering that both Eric and Jim are subjected to in the extract. Like many of the men who have symbolically had to grow up too fast when going to war, through his physically impairment, Eric suffers this to an even greater extent. This is shown by the way Jim hears his voice as “a child, and then, with hardly a change of tone, it was the voice of a querulous old man”. Eric’s seemingly seamless metamorphosis into an old man links to the idea of the long term suffering and the years he will have to endure being like this – ‘sixty even’. The ‘boy’ from the extract is now an ‘old man’. He is seen as ‘querulous’, meaning petulant and whiny, alluding to how the war has aged him and taken away his youth, and by extension the prime of his life, by essentially fast forwarding his aging process. His aging is ironic because, while he is symbolically presented as aged, he must now be treated like a child as he is no longer able to do anything for himself without assistance and needs to be ‘looked after’.

This contrasts between physical youth and mental youth is shown with the next line, “Outside for the first time since was a kid, Jim cried, pushing his fists hard into his eyes sockets”. Whereas Eric is aging prematurely and becoming old before his time, Jim has made a regression – reverting back to being a ‘kid’, in an attempt to cope with the trauma he has faced. This highlights the idea of youth and innocence, relating to the huge number of young men that were killed in the war effort. He covers his ‘eyes sockets’ in an attempt to block out whats happening around him and, though an adult, Jim desperately wants to go back to the past, before he had responsibilities, and more so before the war effort took away his childlike innocence and tainted him. Though the men who fought in war were still someone’s child, they are no longer allowed to act as such, shown with the use of the word ‘Outside’, as Jim hides his reaction from other people. This may also allude to the expectations placed on men at the time to remain strong and not show weakness. From a feminist viewpoint, you can argue that this is an idea that is familiar even to a modern reader, with society still expecting men to act as the strong pillar of the family and not show their emotions. So, the way Jim breaks down at a distance from other people is not only significant because it shows his pain, but it also shows that not only did these men suffer, but they did so in silence.

Malouf emphasizes the idea of suffering through the portrayal of Jim and Eric. Despite the brevity of the extract, we catch a glimpse into the imminent future of pain that Eric himself will experience, as well as the emotional turmoil that Jim breaks down from. The narrative succeeds in showing that – even though the war is just a small chunk of these mens lives – it has endless, lifelong consequences.

Fly Away Peter and the Role of Natural Environments

In David Malouf’s novel Fly Away Peter, several key ideas are introduced by being paired with the natural environments that surround the central character Jim. Malouf presents the ideas of the horror of war and the destructive nature of humanity, demonstrating how such aggression affects the natural environment. In doing so, Malouf creates a series of binaries or opposites, contrasting characters and the world around them. The most extreme example of these binaries is innocence contrasted with experience, which is a predominant feature within the characters that interact with Jim throughout the novel. This contrast becomes obvious within the natural environments (grassy, mountainous environment to muddy ditch) as well as how the characters interact: the mutual respect of the sanctuary compared to the defacing of the European battlegrounds. Furthermore the symbolic use of birds in the novel constructs a heavy contrast, with Malouf transitioning from colourful, harmonious birds to bleak imagery of crows overhead. In the three settings of the book (“the sanctuary”, the “quiet section of the front,” and in the trenches) Malouf presents his key ideas through the changes in natural environment.

Malouf initially depicts a peaceful and beautiful natural environment: “the sanctuary.” This is a place where Jim is happy and safe, as if in a second home, and through powerful imagery, Malouf builds an image of paradise. This paradise is free from any harm or suffering, a clear reference to the biblical Garden of Eden. It is made immediately clear that the sanctuary is a beautiful place, “the land in that area gradually rising towards far, immensely blue mountains”, clearly using imagery to captivate the audiences into Malouf’s construction of a perfect place – representing the innocence of Ashley and Jim. Within paradise is peace, with “each section supported it’s own bird life; territorial borders..which the birds were free to cross, but didn’t”. This is paired with the description of beautiful birds and has the effect of building the basis of a powerful contrast, in that case identical to that of a tragedy. It is during Jim’s time working near the sanctuary that he finds out about the war breaking out, which Malouf uses to show the innocence of the youth who are queuing up to enlist which contrasts Miss Harcourt’s knowledge of experience, initially described as “angry” at the idea of Jim leaving to go to war, however she later makes an effort to appear indifferent about it, even to the point of reassuring him that she will “hold the fort”, showing the immense care she has for Jim. In terms of the key ideas however, it serves to show that nature is beautiful without the terrors of war tearing it apart and how it manages to maintain this beauty and peace by not being afflicted by human nature, which later tarnishes the European towns with war; turning beauty to muddy, horrible battlegrounds – a progressive change presented by Malouf.

The following section shows Jim’s life drifting out of control as he feels the world “tilting him” towards the “mouth of hell” and occurs while the company of troops spends some time at the “quiet section of the front”, serving to introduce many aspects of both plot and key ideas through the introduction of experience; a transitional point between environments and sections of Jim’s life, where for the first time Jim is forced to “suppress his black rage”. This section is an introduction to the blatant and raw contrast that will be presented in the third section of the novel, with it being quickly established that it is surrounded in “local people whose farms had been where the war now was” however despite evacuating, life must resume for the locals. Therefore, this section is critical in Malouf’s development and presentation of his key ideas. In order to instigate the building of the idea of the horror of war, Malouf begins to foreshadow terrible things for these soldiers, “These wagons had once taken cattle up to the slaughter house”, also acting as a simile as the wagon ride was an inbetween stage for the cattle at one stage. When Jim arrives, Jim sees locals who, while peaceful, are described as having hostile mannerisms, “They hadn’t left and they weren’t all that grateful for their land being defended from invaders”. These early minor characters are key in the highlighting of the innocence contrasting experience idea as they are the first characters Malouf writes about that have personally witnessed the true horror of war and the barbaric nature of humanity; the nature that they rely so heavily on with their farms have been trampled and destroyed beyond resurrection, clearly outlining the true horror of war that these people have experienced. However, this only adds to the foreshadowing nature of the text.

Malouf presents an opposite view of the sanctuary as he describes Jim’s journey into “the mouth of hell” – the battleground trenches. Once again Malouf utilizes a wide variety of techniques to contrast the two major environments and in turn, highlight the idea of war and nature. Furthermore, this is the section of the novel where Jim’s innocence leaves him and he realises just how horrible the place he is in is. Malouf describes the world around Jim as being mad, as if the ground Jim stands on is dying from the fighting occurring on top of it, “duckboards were a foot under water…a whole earth wall had fallen”, it is made to seem as if the world around Jim is giving up and collapsing. “Jim saw that he had been living, till he came here, in a state of dangerous innocence”, in this Malouf finally reveals the true horror of war and the experience that comes from it – Jim witnesses his friend Clancy being obliterated by a “minnie” along with the removal of Eric’s legs which reacts powerfully with the audience. With the Earth giving way around him and the true nature of humanity is revealed to Jim, Malouf reaches a climax in the presentation of his key ideas.

Malouf has effectively described the natural environment to emphasise the central ideas presented in Fly Away Peter. Through Malouf’s use of contrast between settings, Malouf is able to show his key ideas about war, nature and humanity; alongside Jim’s own discovery and transition from being a part of the innocence to being one of the experienced, which is learnt on his miserable descent into hell. This makes Jim’s life seem even more tragic, with biblical connections in scale and context; adding to Malouf’s idea of the true horror of war.

The Search For Identity in Fly Away Peter

Jim’s search for identity throughout David Malouf’s novel Fly Away Peter is represented largely through his actions and interactions with others, as well as through his thoughts and interests. One of the strongest representations of this search is seen when he goes to Brisbane, where he finds himself being swept along in the excitement of war and the reader sees in him what he calls “an alternative” (39) or a new “steady and sure” (39) side to himself. He later ponders about the war and “all this action” (41), thinking to himself, “Maybe it concerned him, maybe it didn’t. So much of what a man was existed within and was known only to himself” (41). This can be seen as a turning point for Jim, as here it can be seen that he recognizes that he must make his own identity. Despite this he later thinks, “Nothing has changed” (41); however, soon after the reader sees him “strok[ing] his upper lip, where for two days now he had been nursing the beginning of a moustache” (43) a sure sign that he was beginning to make or find his own identity. The identity of the characters within Fly Away Peter} is very important in the overall search for a meaning or purpose to life, for it is their identity that defines who they are and what they are meant to do.Jim’s interactions with those who seem to have found and defined their identity is a key element in his own search for identity. His relationship with Ashley is a very prominent example of this, as it is a relationship in which class distinction and social standing are defined and yet simultaneously overlooked. A large part of the first few chapters of the novel is dedicated to the definition of the relationship between Jim and Ashley. Ashley is represented as “an English Gentleman” (9), as seen in the descriptions of his clothing, “fancy accent” (6), and general mannerisms. The reader sees a vast difference between Ashley and Jim, who can be seen as a polar opposite. However, when they first meet, Jim is described as “[making] no attempt to… acknowledge any difference between Ashley and himself except that one was mounted and the other had his two feet set firmly on the earth” (15). While this is a physical description, it can also be seen as a metaphor for the class distinction between the two: Jim recognizes Ashley as of a higher class and yet also sees him as “a man that he could talk to” (4), one with interests and goals similar to his own. This definition of where Jim stands in life and who he can relate to is very important in his attempt to define his own identity. The reader is able to relate to this search for identity, which all must face at one point or another in their lives; that creates depth within the novel and brings to life not just a simple story, but a representation of the search for purpose and identity, which is of universal significance. Jim’s desire to be “part of something bigger than himself” is a part of his search for identity or purpose in life and ultimately leads him to war. Throughout the novel Jim is seen as being an “outsider”: he does not participate in the excitement at the news of war and his “map” of the world around him makes him seem detached from that which he observes. However, it can also be seen that Jim wishes to be a part of something bigger than himself. This is first seen when Ashley creates his “sanctuary”: Jim describes it as “not just a job but work, years, a lifetime” (19). His sense of being a part of something bigger is also seen when he speaks of the sanctuary to Imogen: “a week later Jim told her of the sanctuary, actually using the word out loud for the first time, since he was certain now that there was nothing in her that would scoff at the grandness of it” (29). Jim’s desire to be part of something bigger is again seen when he speaks or thinks of the war. On his first day in Brisbane, hearing of the war and seeing the excitement, he “felt… as if the ground before him, that only minutes ago stretched away to a clear future, had suddenly tilted in the direction of Europe, in the direction of events” (37). This desire is again seen later on when he “felt the ground tilting, as he had felt it that first day in Brisbane, to the place where the war was” (56). This representation of the war being “something bigger” is also seen in Jim’s first description of the war: “others were involved. Many thousands. And they were ordinary enough fellows like himself” (59). The desire for Jim to be part of something bigger can be seen as part of his search for his place and purpose in the world around him. The war is simply an opportunity for him to discover who he is and contribute in a bigger way than he could otherwise.Jim’s curiosity or desire to learn more about the world around him, especially as represented by the birds, leads to his attempts to discern his own place within it. His keen observations allow the reader to discover more about his progress in this discernment. The birds hold a special place in Jim’s consciousness and this can be seen as representative of his curiosity of the unknown. An example of this is when Jim marvels at the ability of a sandpiper to traverse the world, “seeing clearly the space between the two points, and knowing that the distance, however great, could quite certainly be covered a second time… The idea made Jim dizzy” (21). Jim’s interest in all that he sees around him displays his attempt to understand the world around him and his own purpose or place in it; this gives depth to his seemingly simple, yet complicated character, a depth that the reader observes, therefore creating more than just a story.The theme of continuity almost goes against the search for purpose or a meaning to life; however, it enables the reader to relate to this search and identify with the characters who undertake it. Continuity of life is seen through a variety of different motifs and symbols throughout the novel. The birds are a very prominent motif; they continue about their lives and usual patterns despite what is happening to the characters in the novel. This is highlighted as Jim leaves for war when he says, “they didn’t speak about Jim’s work. It was left unstated that the job would be there for him when he got back. The birds could wait. The timespan for them was more or less infinite” (57). An important symbol for the continuity of life is that of the surfer seen by Imogen towards the end of the novel: “the youth was still there, his arms extended, riding… Everything changed. The past would not hold and could not be held” (142). This acceptance of the continuation of life, despite the death of not just Jim, but so many others, is a prominent presentation of the continuity of life. The continuation of the goings-on of nature and the rest of the world — in spite of the war, the death of Clancy, the disfiguration of Eric, the death of Jim, and so on — presents the idea that perhaps there is no purpose, or meaning to each individual life and so confronts a “universal issue of life,” therefore making the novel about more than just a story.The novel Fly Away Peter goes beyond being a simple story because it explores issues of universal significance that will resonate with any reader. The search for identity undertaken by all of the characters in the novel is important in representing the search for a purpose in life. Jim’s desire to be a part of something bigger than just himself represents the common desire to not remain insignificant and to make a difference, or impact, on the world. His interest in the world around him can also be seen as his search for his own place in the world, and the theme of continuity of life presents the idea that there may not be an ultimate purpose to life. These elements come together within a story to make it so much more than just a tale, for it forces the reader to ponder his or her own life, its purpose, and direction, and the reader’s own identity. This means that the reader may relate to the story, giving it multiple levels of meaning. Fly Away Peter uses common issues of life to connect with the reader so that they will engage with the characters brought to life in the novel. These characters ultimately represent the struggle of each one of us to create an identity, to find a purpose to life, and ultimately to come to peace with it, just as Jim did within the story.