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Question One Focus: David Malouf: The Great World
Evaluate Malouf’s representation of Australian prisoners of war in Singapore and Thailand during World War II.
Malouf’s The Great World is a novel of historical proportions, focusing on the impact of major events in the lives of ordinary Australians over decades. Malouf opens his readers to a mysterious and complex world where deep experiences of individuals are dissected in order to explore the impact of the inevitable suffering and struggles of its characters. The major concern of the novel is Malouf’s focus on World War II and the experiences of its characters, Vic and Digger, as Japanese Prisoner’s of War. This imperative section of The Great World represents the first time Australian land was vulnerable to the outside forces of the axis power; Japan. The representation and portrayal of life in a POW camp is filled with disease, starvation, slave labour and the constant reminder of death. The evaluation of Malouf’s representation of POWS in Singapore and Thailand during World War II focuses solely on the author’s avoidance of older traditions and sentiments of war, such as acts of heroic fighting and the ANZAC legend (Rhoden, 2014). The Great World focuses on the ‘heart of war as a human experience’ which allows Malouf to go beyond these traditional notions of brutality and futility that characterise many texts about war (Rhoden, 2014, p. 3). The major military failure at Singapore highlights the nation’s feelings of isolation, abandonment, insecurity and describes the ‘age of terror’ in which Australia found itself. Malouf notes, in a 2009 interview, that growing up in Australia during the 30s, 40s and 50s was difficult due to the fact that war had become a way of life (Mooney, p. 84). Malouf notes that the manhood of young men was ultimately questioned on a daily basis: ‘You will be going to war one day. How will you deal with that? What sort of man, basically, are you?’ (Mooney, 2009, p. 84). With this premise in mind, Malouf created the POW situation in which the central characters Vic and Digger’s state of mind and sense of self and difference in identity is explored. Prior to Vic and Digger’s capture by the Japanese in Changi, both men live very different lives. Vic has been brought up in a hostile and violent environment which has left him to become defensive of the world around him. This ultimately left Vic feeling as if the world owes him for the happy, loving environment which he missed through his impoverished, unjust and unfair childhood (Rhoden, 2014). In juxtaposition to Vic, Digger is open to and accepting of the world, with a ‘desire to get to the bottom of things’ (Griffith University, 2014, p. 56). It is this difference in character, fundamental makeup and varied responses to life, during and after their POW experience, that demonstrate Malouf’s aim of ‘interrogating human nature in order to foster understanding’ (Rhoden, 2014, p 1). Malouf commences his representation of the POW experience with Digger in Changi. It becomes clear that we are thrust into an existence removed from fighting. Digger is finding it difficult to deal with the ‘despondency’ of his experience ‘it’s worse than anything’ (Malouf, 1990, p. 111). The description reveals that the ‘Japs’ ‘caught out’ by the sudden inundation of prisoners, do not have the knowledge or resources to effectively run the camp. As the days went by slowly, Digger and his fellow soldiers begin to form a ‘normal routine’. Digger ‘clings’ to Mac and Doug ‘more than ever’ but is finding it difficult to get on with Vic who he ‘couldn’t stand’ (Malouf, 1990, p. 113). As these two very different representations of ‘masculinity’ continue their POW journey, their relationship shifts as they experience the realistic and less than glamourous loss of their mutual friend Mac and Digger’s near death experience in Thailand. It is clear that growth in the relationship between Digger and...
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