Central to David Malouf’s Ransom, is the notion of loss, to deeply depict the fastidiousness and fragility of life. Achilles, in his quest to seek vengeance for the death of his be-loved friend, Patroclus, becomes distant as he struggles to remain emotionally intact, being unable to grasp onto the warrior and the leader he once was. Similarly, Priam’s better judgement and role as the King of Troy are clouded by the slaying of his son, Hector, acting irrationally, by conjuring up a precarious journey virtuously from a vision as a result of the trauma he has experienced from witnessing Achilles actions on his son. Consequently it takes the proceedings of Priam ransoming his son’s body to bring renewed empathy to both men.
Achilles being born from both elements of earth and water is hindered to entirely comprehend who he really is. His Dad, Peleus being a great warrior and his mother, Thetis, originating from the element of water, “in all its many forms”. He inherits abilities from his mother, emulating an “eel – like, fluid weightless” sensation within himself, aiding his swift, rapid movements in battle. Yet Achilles is bought up by his father, where “he had entered the rough world of men”, thus not being exposed to the tender virtues of women, such as compassion, empathy and kind-heartedness, rather from of a young –age is subjected to “a world of pain, loss, dependency, bursts of violence and elation”. As a result Achilles is moulded by Peleus into the man; he wishes him to be, while Achilles aspires to impress Peleus to rifle for his loving approval, which is unfulfilled due to the absence of a feminine role model. Ultimately Achilles is deprived of his childhood; he is submerged into a world of violence and killing, where he becomes “numb” to the notion of death. Subsequently from the loss of his childhood, as well as being immersed in the culture of battle, Achilles is unable to find direction about who he truly is and successively he is unable to appropriately manage the loss of his dear friend Patroclus, envisioning himself as a protector to Patroclus.
It is amidst Achilles emotional pain and gradual deterioration of Patroclus’ murder through which Malouf truly captures the concept of loss. Achilles visioning himself as a protector to Patroclus befalls emotionally disturbed “like a man obeying the needs of some other, darker agency”. From his childhood, Peleus taught Achilles to suppress his feelings, to not to expose to others how he felt, this strength remained mentally where he never learnt to deal with anguish and misery of his loved ones, especially Patroclus. As a result he becomes damaged and a blurred personality of what he once was that Malouf uses to show the consequences of emotional pain, to elude a resilient, strong minded leader in Achilles. Consequently Achilles becomes psychologically detached from reality, in a struggle to find solace for Patroclus’ death, reverting to massacring Hectors body repeatedly as “the self-consuming rage that drives him and wastes his spirit in despair”, is the beginning of the loss of his true self as a leader and a gladiator, which is stemmed from his ‘inward rage’, for his self-blame of Patroclus’ death, further obscuring his leadership and judgement to disrespect the body of Hector, to outwardly direct his anger at Hector’s body as a scapegoat for his true agony, at the loss of his adopted brother and the loss of his humane side, which Patroclus he him to draw away from a world of bloodshed and combat.
Centralised to Malouf’s conceptual theme of loss, is the perception of loss facing Priam, through the murder and slaughter of his son, and the loss of his own perceived insignificance, as he journeys to Ransom the body of Hector. Priam’s most immediate and significant pain is climaxed, as he endures the murder of Hector, although Achilles actions ultimately prove the harshest ordeal to Priam, watching Achilles, ‘dragged the corpse to his car, secure it, knot after knot to the axle-tree, and hauled it off through the tumbling dust’. As Achilles for eleven continuous days drags ‘him up and down before the Greek Ships’, serving as a reminder to Priam for eleven days in a row, the loss and death of his son’s presence, evoking Priam to act out of instinct, journeying to re-obtain Hectors body. As a result Priam, viewing himself as an ‘ancient doll’, feels the desire and motivation due to Achilles actions, to conjure a treacherous journey, stripping himself of all ‘royal insignia’ and developing the courage to travel to the Greek camp undetected, without soldiers, but with the purity of his true self, ‘dressed in a plain white robe’. It is here that Priam’s desperation and misery are highlighted Malouf, to demonstrate the multitude of the situation, in which the way loss can diversely affect an individual, forcing them to go to great lengths to do what is perceived to them to be necessary.
Ultimately, David Malouf’s concept of loss is explored through the main characters of Priam and Achilles. Both physically having the grieve for the loss of loved ones, Malouf explores this theme by depicting the dissimilar personalities of each character, and how each character adapts, copes and develops into a new leader after the ordeal of losing Patroclus and Hector. For Achilles he emerges a wrathful leader of his Myrmidons, being unable to have fully captured his emotions, as Patroclus was his escape from war. Conversely, Priam emerges as a wise man, viewing his own action as necessary, and rather than being systematic, spontaneously from a vision, journey’s to ransom the body of Hector.