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.
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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 […]