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Fly Away Peter Essay, Research Paper

Malouf evokes the horror and absurdity of war in ‘Fly Away Peter’ through an Australian frame of reference that creates reality for the reader. Discuss.

Malouf’s ‘Fly Away Peter’ uses an Australian frame of reference to display the horrors and absurdity of war. The way in which Malouf writes creates reality – the reader can suspend disbelief and believe that the events in the novella are actually real. When we read ‘Fly Away Peter’, we see the story through Jim’s eyes. Jim is a bird watcher, and he is Australian. Ashley, his employer, was born in Australia and educated in England. Ashley has inherited the land on which Jim watches the birds. The Australian frame of reference is seen through Jim, juxtaposed with Ashley’s British influence.

The first few chapters of the book are set just before World War One, in coastal Queensland. A description is given where Jim and Ashley live and their lifestyles. Here we learn that they are not incredibly important or powerful people – they are ordinary. Many readers can identify with the characters, creating a sense of feasibility and reality within the story.

World War One is another setting in ‘Fly Away Peter’. Australia, being strongly tied to England, to obliged to be involved in the war, despite the lack of any other solid reasons. Jim and Ashley enlist, Jim as a soldier, Ashley as a general, only Ashley returns. Descriptions of events and locations that Jim gives while in war really display to the reader the horror and war and just how much people had sacrificed.

At the time of the World War One, Britain was Australia’s ‘mother country’. Influences were still very strong, and Australia, still very young, needed this support and comfort that Britain offered. Australia, as a country officially existed, but she had no identity of her own to set her apart from Britain. This is seen in history through the English style uniforms the army adopted, the clothes that were worn, and the style of houses. The isolation of Australia also had an effect on her development. There was a lack of technology, money and industry. Without that base, it seemed that Australia would develop rather slowly.

World War One was to be a morale raiser for Australia – her first war as a nation. It was seen as a chance to show to the world what Australia could be, the first step in breaking away from the restraints of Britain. In ‘Fly Away Peter’, Australia is seen through the contrasts of the descriptions of Jim’s homeland and descriptions of the locations of the war.

“The landscape, the whole great circle of it, grassheads, scrub, water, sky, quite took his breath away.” (Pg 17)

“There were emergency roads everywhere, cutting across what must once have been vineyards or beet-fields, metalled for motor vehicles and guns, cobbled or packed with dirt for the men, and they were all in use, with men on foot or on horseback moving in dense columns, mules, horsed wagons, guns.” (Pg 68)

This contrast portrays Jim’s disturbance. He is accustomed to his peaceful, quiet surroundings and his birds. The war though, is completely different. He is out of his comfort zone, and in something he has never experienced. As this disturbs Jim, it disturbs the reader, and foreshadows the horrors and troubles Jim faces.

Australia is also seen through the contrast of Jim and Ashley’s cultures – Jim living in Australia all his life, and Ashley being educated in England. Ashley is seen as higher class than Jim, because Ashley owns land, received a better education, while Jim is working class, and was educated in a one room school. Ashley’s classical taste in music suggests an education, also.

“He had been to school in England, then at Cambridge, then in Germany for a year studying music, and light have passed anywhere on that side of the world for an English gentleman.” (Pg 8)

War is not one of the most pleasant images this world has seen. Usually it is regarded as one of the most frightening. When reading ‘Fly Away Peter’, Malouf almost expects us to have a reasonable idea of the general experience and descriptions of war. We only see the war from a single person’s perspective – Jim’s. Even Jim’s descriptions though, give a good idea of the personal turmoils and hardships throughout the war.

The horror of war is not only shown through descriptions, but also through a character known as Wizzer Green. As readers we are told that Wizzer picked on Jim, for an unknown, unannounced reason.

“He didn’t know what he had done, maybe he had done nothing at all, but something in him offended Wizzer.” (Pg 62)

Wizzer seemed a very strong character, because of his willingness to fight Jim.

“…dull savagery he sensed in the other man, who’s square clenched brows and fiercely grinding jaw…” (pg 63)

A few chapters later, Jim is alone in the trenches during a battle. He expects very many members of his group are dead. Wizzer finds him, and Jim is glad that he is not alone. He expects that the pair will find safety – in each other’s company, and from the enemy. Wizzer refuses Jim’s invitation, and suddenly enters a state of disbelief – he has experienced too much and cannot think straight.

“Suddenly, alarmingly, Wizzer began to quake. His shoulders first, then his jaw. An odd moaning sound came from between the man’s clenched teeth and Jim could see the whites of his eyes, in the mud-streaked face. He had drawn himself up into a ball and was rocking back and forth, clenching his fists to his chest. His whole body was being shaken as by other, invisible hands.” (Pg 92)

This would never have been expected that the Wizzer that was introduced to the reader earlier. The extent of the contrast strongly suggests to the reader what happened to men in the trenches and how severely they could have been changed. It seemed that even if the men came home physically sound, the horror of the situation left their minds scarred forever.

When in war, Jim describes himself as a ‘dangerous innocent’. He carries a gun, which could kill a man in a second, which makes him dangerous. He does not have the clearest idea of what brought him to war, what he is fighting for, nor why he must kill men he has never set eyes on, which makes him innocent. This strangely innocent situation has been foreshadowed through the title of the novella. ‘Fly away peter’ is a line from a children’s nursery rhyme, a symbol of the upmost innocence.

World War One was not Australia’s war. Australia had no arguments with the common enemy, she was not involved in the happenings of Europe, which seemed a world away at that time. Why then, did Australia, a newly developing country, send a sizeable percentage of her male population to fight another’s war? It seems absurd. To the British though, shown though their responses to the Australian army, Australia’s participation seemed obligatory. During the war, British soldiers looked down upon the Australian soldiers. After the war, Australia received very little from the British, despite the amount sacrificed. Surviving Australian soldiers were sent home, with a considerable lack of treatment. The sudden lack of medical resources left many ongoing injuries scantily treated, and many of the mentally wounded were not treated at all, but left to live with the war in their minds forever. Men that left their wives and children to go to war, returned different, changed men. The sudden lack of males (one male to five females after the war) reduced the number of births and because of the lack of skilled women, many fatherless families depended on social security benefits.

Consequences such as these were not seen before Australia agreed to send troops to war. In ‘Fly Away Peter’, we see this through the excitement in the air described before Jim left for war.

“…planted a seed of excitement in him whose sudden blooming here in the open air cast its own reflection on things.” (Pg 36)

Over 50 years after the war, and with few survivors of the war Jim and Ashley were involved in, it is difficult for us to come to terms with the fact that the was actually happened. Malouf assists the reader in the by occasionally referring to actually places and battles that took place.

“They went up to Bailleul in cattle trucks, forty to a car.” (Pg 65)

“He had fought in every part of the line around Armentieres: at Houplines on the L’Epinette salient, at Ploegsteert, at le Bizet.” (Pg 96)

In conclusion, with the backgrounds of World War One and Australia, Malouf manages to give the reader an idea of what the war was like by focussing on the horror and absurdity of war. At the time of the First World War, Australia was still strongly tied to Britain, hence her supposed unnecessary involvement in the war. Although, being involved in the war gave the Australians something to be proud of. I feel that to be part of such destruction is shameful. The war was hoped to lift Australia’s identity, but with characters like Ashley coming from England it would have taken a lot more than a war to break ties.

The change in Wizzer’s character demonstrates to the reader that wars really did change men in ways we could not imagine. It is understandable that Wizzer was close to losing his sanity. This understanding came from Jim’s descriptions of the war and from our previously gathered knowledge, which suggests that Malouf expected the reader to already have gained information on the war. As a reader, it could be seen that the war, through Jim’s eyes, and could relate all his experiences with information already gathered. I saw the reality in ‘Fly Away Peter’.

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