Fly Away Peter
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 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.