How Does the Author Use Contrasts and Symbolism to Convey the Central Ideas of the Novel?

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How Does the Author use Contrasts and Symbolism to Convey the Central Ideas of the Novel? What is life? This is a very difficult question that David Malouf invites the reader to ponder over in his novel, “Fly Away Peter”. One of the ways Malouf does this is establish the idea of binary nature of life; how something simply is, or isn’t. This is conveyed through techniques such as symbolism and contrasts that the author expertly uses, to create a philosophical text. The binary nature of life is one of the central ideas, which is conveyed through multiple uses of contrasts. The most obvious contrast is in the settings. The novel begins in Queensland which is abundant with raw, untouched nature, and changes to Europe where the war is taking place. Jim Saddler loves his homeland in Queensland, admiring nature and spending days watching the landscape and in particular the birds. He is at peace with himself and his surroundings. “He looked about, his grey eyes narrowed, and the land was flat circle all round, grass-tips, tree-stumps, brush, all of it seemingly still and silent, all of it crowded and alive with eyes, beaks, wing-tips.”.In Europe however, he witnesses the effect man has had on nature in the developed countries, the gruesome horrors of war, and experiences a dark side of his personality “Nothing counted. The disintegrating power of that cruelty in metallic form, when it hurled itself against you, raised you aloft, thumped you down like a sack of grain, scattered you as bloody rain, or opened you up to its own infinite blackness- nothing stood before that. It was annihilating. It was all.” .The contrast between the serenity of life in the sanctuary and the savagery of the war in Europe is foreshadowed in Jim’s train of thought “The light, and then the dark” as he sees Miss Imogen Harcourt processing photographs. The binary nature of life itself is a contrast; it is the fact that things are either this or that, nothing in-between. The contrast in setting is one of the binary opposites Malouf uses this and many other contrasts to express the theme of the binary nature of life. Birds are a common presence throughout “Fly Away Peter”, although more so in the first half of the text, while Jim is in Queensland. Jim admires the birds, and loves watching, noting and learning about them. Shortly after meeting Jim, Ashley Crowther discovers his love of birds “…when he named the bird, … and the island, he made them sound, Ashley thought, extraordinary. He endowed them with some romantic quality that was really in himself. An odd interest revealed itself, the fire of an individual passion”. The birds signify the abundance of untouched nature in Queensland. Jim respects and admires the birds. While on the war front Jim has to deal with the rat infestation. He despises these foul creatures, in contrast to the majestic birds, “And for him they were familiars of death, creatures of the underworld, as birds were of life and the air”. Jim does see some birds while in Europe that are oblivious to the war, continuing to survive as they did so before the war started. Even though Europe is depicted as the dark, unforgiving one of the two settings, it does have some good in it, like Yin-Yang. Both good and evil have a little of each other in themselves, yet being completely opposite. The dark side of Queensland is the Bi-plane, which Jim dislikes, which is also another contrast to the birds. The contrast in the birds and the rats, and the birds and the bi-plane help convey the central idea of the binary nature of life, but are also used to symbolise key elements of “Fly Away Peter”. Symbolism and contrasts are used hand in hand, both strengthening the other’s importance to express the central idea of the binary nature of life. The contrast in the setting between Queensland and England is a symbol of the contrast between nature and man; Queensland being a symbol of nature, as Ashley states “It simply was” meaning that the landscape was...
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