The Search For Identity in Fly Away Peter

January 23, 2019 by Essay Writer

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.

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