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Ransom essay

By Effy-Fairweather Oct 20, 2014 1492 Words

‘The true power of Priam’s vision lies in the fact that it challenges the will of the gods and asserts the agency of men.’ Discuss.In David Malouf’s Ransom, the fall of Hector, “the noblest warrior” in all of Troy, causes Priam to become certain of the atrocities soon to befall Troy and its citizens, infusing his responsibilities as a king with a sense of guilt which stems from his “weak protection”. However, after receiving a vision of him from the goddess Iris, with no symbols of “royal dignity”, Priam embarks on the seemingly ill-fated journey to retrieve his sons’ body. While the fate of all men is predetermined by the gods, Priam’s vision challenges the sceptical notion that all are doomed to follow the will of the gods – that is, their assured destinies. Therefore, by carrying out his vision, Priam asserts that the capacity to change one’s self is ultimately dependent on the individual. For Malouf, the true power of Priam’s vision results in his own desire to restore both himself and Achilles, in spite of their inevitable deaths. It can be seen that while the destinies of all characters in Ransom are ordained by divine forces, there is an inherent desire in all human beings to establish control over their assured fates. Priam dismisses his rule as a “mockery” ordained by the gods, believing that his predetermined rule is doomed to end in the violence that will soon consume Troy. By choosing to label his rule as a “foul-smelling mockery”, Priam positions himself to believe that his stature as a king does not reflect who he truly is: the suppressed “child” Podarces, who “suffered [his] first death”, in exchange for power, luxury, and an identity that he gladly took if it meant for survival. The “foul” is pivotal as it demonstrates the progression of his contempt at being manipulated by the gods, and his inner motivation to simultaneously break free of his “obligations” and his responsibilities as king. In doing so, Malouf seeks to convey that all human beings are fated to follow a particular destiny, and that fate is an intangible notion that ultimately defines us against the rest of society. Malouf portrays one’s extraneous identity as a factor that influences their fate, as in the case of Priam, whose position as king will surely result in his murder in the eventual sacking of Troy. However, Malouf is not portraying fate as an irreversible timeline in their lives, and that individuals are helpless to combat it; rather, he invites the possibility of challenging fate and differentiating what is fated and what is not, such as the “opportunity to act for ourselves,” to try “something that might force events into a different course”. For Malouf, what cannot be changed in Priam’s life is simply left “to the gods”, and what can be readily changed is merely dependent on “chance”, which is also influenced by his actions, and a willingness to try something “new” to break free from his fate. Thus, it is evident that with the necessary perseverance and will, one will be able to establish a degree of control over their destinies.Therefore, Malouf portrays human identities as being flexible and not under the god’s controls, and that it is through free will that one will be able to change themselves. Confined into his kingly duties, Priam has had a very selective experience of the world and has “remain[ed] aloof” from the “realm of the incidental and ordinary”, demonstrating his disconnection from the natural world outside the walls of Troy. The royal palace and the life of the ordinary are contrasted through the formality and tradition of royal customs, and the impoverished hardships pervading through ordinary life, which Priam expresses a strong desire to understand and to “expose [himself] at last to what is most human”, much to the chagrin of Polydamas, who states that the gods “made [Priam] a king”. It is evident to see that our destinies are infused with our responsibilities and that it is a fixed notion entirely ordained by the gods; however Priam’s obstinacy to appeal to Achilles ‘simply as a man’ reveals the progression of his determination to change responsibility from that of a king to that of an ordinary father, pleading upon the common grounds of humanity such as family and empathy for our enemies. It is ultimately Somax’s “personal” and “raw” stories that force a fundamental change in Priam’s mentality; Somax, who occupies the lower class of the social hierarchy, values the intrinsic facets of life much more appreciatively, such as the making of griddlecakes and the “nibbling” of one’s feet in the streams, and is more devoted to what remains of his family, with “none of [his children] now living”. In contrast, Priam never thought that there “might be ingredients” in his food, having had the luxury of food being provided to him due to his position. Malouf symbolises Priam’s “innocence” to the world through the use of imagery of the suppressed “child” within himself. Moreover, he demonstrates the inherent urge within us to expose ourselves to the world of the new, and thus Priam develops a “newfound eye for irrelevant happenings” and views life with a “growing respect”. In addition, Somax’s personal anguish of the death of his children forces Priam to re-evaluate his relationship with his children, who he admits have a “formal and symbolic” relationship to him. The vivid detail in which Somax describes the death of his children prompts Priam to question whether he felt the same intensity of emotions that Somax did towards the death of his children, and it is after this incident that Priam is able to understand what it truly means to be an ordinary father acting out of love for his son’s body. Hence, for Malouf, it is Priam’s intent to carry out his vision and his resulting transformation during the journey that is emblematic of his metaphoric departure from an identity of royal ignorance to one that defies the characteristics of a king. For Malouf, the true power of Priam’s vision results from his defiance of what seems to be predetermined by the gods, motivated by a desire to liberate both himself and Achilles from their obligations. Priam is aware of the intravenous duality of both himself and Achilles, and that Achilles is able to exhibit sensations of humanity just as himself. However, it is the stereotypical connotations attached with that of a warrior that prevent Achilles from revealing his true, tender emotions, who would never betray “to others what he felt”. Therefore, it is Priam’s objective to allow for the opportunity for Achilles to “simply be a man”. Hecuba is adamant that Achilles, as a “wolf, [a] violator of every law of the gods” cannot be released from his barbaric self, and will take no pity upon Priam, using the occasion to murder him. It is easy to assume that one would not persist in the face of such danger, although Malouf demonstrates that “what seems foolish is just what is most sensible sometimes”. In the eyes of the royal family, Priam’s journey is likely to fail, although he continues to feel as if his journey “is possible because it is not possible”. Finally, in his speech to Achilles, Priam appeals to him “as a father” and catches Achilles “entirely off guard”. The image of Achilles failing to repress the tender emotions within him serves to remind us that humane qualities are prevalent throughout all of us and that it is only one’s position, which is “[left) to the Gods” , that defines their extraneous self. It is Priam’s unexpected evocation of his son Neoptolemus, “a sore spot whose ache he has long supressed”, that ultimately causes Achilles to sit “soul-struck” as he contemplates the murder of Priam at the hands of Neoptolemus after his own death. By defying the objections and expectations of the Trojan Court, Priam is able to approach Achilles as “one poor mortal to another” and fundamentally change his egoism, a mission which the Trojan Court dismissed as futile. In essence, whilst fate may seem largely predetermined by the gods, Malouf does indeed show that there is a desire within all of us to take control of our fates, and that our identities are not asserted by the gods. It is through the persistent motivation to liberate both himself and Achilles that Priam is able to succeed in a journey that was perceived as seemingly impossible. Through Ransom, Malouf insinuates that it is up to ourselves to make the most of what remains of our lives, and that when we follow our beliefs we are able to achieve extraordinary accomplishments – a belief epitomised in Priam’s speech to his children: “Who can go humbly, as a father, and as a man, to his son’s killer, and ask in the god’s name, and in their sight, to be given back the body of his son”. 

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