In David Maloufs Fly Away Peter (1982) Jims life as an ordinary working class Australian youth is quickly suspended for the emerging disturbance that is WWI

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SACE Stage 2 English Studies

Study of a Single Text – Fly Away Peter

Q: Explain how techniques used by the author were effective in shaping your understanding of the central ideas in one of the core texts. 

In David Malouf’s Fly Away Peter (1982) Jim’s life as an ordinary working class Australian youth is quickly suspended for the emerging disturbance that is WWI. The audience’s understanding of the central ideas of the effects of war on men, binary opposites in life, and the continuity of life are effectively developed through the use of contrast between settings, minor characters, and recurring motifs.

Through the use of contrast between settings Malouf explores the idea that life is full of binary opposites. The reader is initially introduced to Jim’s life on the Queensland coast, in a peaceful setting with its “intensely blue mountains” and swamps bordered with tea-trees “staining the shallows there tobacco brown” (Malouf, Fly Away Peter, p.1), outlining the natural beauty of the land’s swamps and marshes. In the sanctuary of Jim’s work he gives tours in a “flat-bottomed boat”, drifting over “brackish water” with its depths the “colour of brewed tea” and its surface a “burnished gold” (p.29). The very water and air that is the sustenance of life is juxtaposed by the horrific environment on the Western Front, where water and air are the invisible enemies which bring death to the soldiers in the trenches. In the terrible reality of trench warfare the soldiers march on surrounded by the smell of “damp earthwalls and rotting planks” accompanied by “decaying corpses”  with an odd hand or foot “all ragged and black” (p.78). The “water was the real enemy”, causing trench foot and horrible conditions along with the toxic air on the battlefield. In the story’s resolution the reader is brought back to ‘reality’ back in Queensland, back to the beach where “high walls of water” hurl themselves forward “under a shower of spindrift” with a white rush that ran hissing” (p.129); the reader is returned to serenity of life in Australia, away from the war zone. Malouf’s use of contrast in settings effectively distinguishes between the calm peacefulness in Australia and the rumbling chaos of the War in Europe that are binary opposites.

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The dreadfulness in the trenches in the effects of war on men of Fly Away Peter is uniquely conveyed through Malouf’s use of minor characters. The reader and Jim are introduced to Wizzer Green as an uncultured man who had looked to pick a fight with Jim for no particular reason. The preconception that Wizzer is a stereotypical ‘tough guy’ is initially seeded into the reader’s mind, but this idea is soon destroyed. Later on, in the battlefields, Jim finds refuge in the safety of a shell crater and is surprised to be pulled back in as he is leaving by ...

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