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“Jim saw that he had been living, before he came here, in a state of dangerous innocence… He had been blind.” What did Jim mean and how does it relate the overall point of the novel. “Fly Away Peter’, by David Malouf, is essentially a novel examining life; it charts Jim’s loss of innocence as he confronts the brutality of war and the truth of human nature. On his arrival to the trenches it is as if Jim has opened his eyes for the first time, and only now has truly seen the harsh and glaring reality that he was so distanced from in the lush, shady paradise of the sanctuary.
It is the story of how each of us will, or already have left the secure safety of our youthful thoughts to experience the uncertainty and shock of actuality.
Jim acknowledges his need to extend his thinking and experience of life in the face of the changes that the war will inevitably bring.
Jim feels he needs to go to war, “otherwise he would never understand…why his life and everything he had known were so changed…and nobody would be able to tell him”. Jim’s self-admission that his quest for understanding and awareness will take him to the battlefields of Europe foreshadows the realisation of his own inexperience and naivety when he arrives. Jim’s innocence is echoed by that of his countrymen, who are oblivious to the horrors that they will live through or die from.
“I’d want to be in it,” one young girl passionately declares to Jim, of the war. “It’s an opportunity”.
“Every life is a march from innocence…to virtue or vice.” Jim marches straight from his simple life in the sanctuary into the corruption of war. He leaves his field glasses behind with the ‘continuity’ and natural ‘abundance of the sanctuary, accepts his rifle and bayonet, and joins the “familiars of death” in the trenches. The situation that Jim finds himself in, where he is fighting knee-deep in mud or advancing against enemy bullets through no-man’s-land, would be considered more dangerous than his time peacefully spent in the sanctuary. However, Malouf is not writing on the already evident horrors of war: instead, he warns his readers that not to know one’s true nature is the biggest danger in life, and that this self-ignorance can destroy a person just as surely as any bullet or bomb. After he accepts the tools and uniform of a soldier, Jim becomes aware of his capacity for “black anger”. Jim’s experience with Wizzer has caused him “to be confronted with some depth of himself…that frightened him”. Even so, it is safer that Jim would discover unwanted parts of his persona than for him not to know that he was capable of such vicious hatred until it was too late for Clancy to step in and literally bear the brunt of the blow for Jim.
Before Jim came to war, he had existed in the easy gentleness of nature, where every plant and creature has and knows its place. Jim’s innocence is further lost to him after his mates Clancy Parkett and Bob Cleese die in the most horrible of ways, and Clancy’s tag-along Eric Sawney is crippled for life in the same explosion in which Clancy “had been blown out of existence”. In the nature that Jim enjoys and feels so apart of, there is none of the cruel, senseless killing that Jim witnesses in the war and is subsequently scarred by. In the sanctuary, animals are not killed on the orders of a few uninformed and uncaring generals who distance themselves from the bloodshed, even as they order it to continue. In war Jim sees “the disintegrating power of…cruelty in metallic form”; the weapons that humans invent that have no other purpose than to obliterate each other on mass scales, and the ruthless nature of the humans who employ them. He also sees the danger of not appreciating the awesome power that humans have to destroy farms, cities and each other in such unthinkable numbers.
Before Jim journeyed off to war, he had indeed been living in a state of dangerous innocence”. His innocence was dangerous because he had no knowledge of the perils or the differences there were outside of the sanctuary and Australia. ‘Fly Away Peter’ examines the universal theme of life; losing innocence in favour of intelligence and experience. Like Jim, we continually need to reevaluate our stance and consider our opinions afresh, so as not to endanger ourselves by our ignorance.
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