Journey As Metaphor in Literature
Length: 1635 words (4.7 double-spaced pages)
- - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - -
Ariel Dorfman's Heading South, Looking North perhaps best illustrates the concept of a journey being both a process and a goal. Dorfman's travels are a focal point of the autobiography, but the travel of Dorfman's parents becomes important in developing the different facets of Dorfman's identity search. The ties between Dorfman's soul-searching and his travel begin, strangely, before his own birth. The story begins at the opening of the twentieth century, when Dorman's parents had to flee Europe; his father leaving Odessa and his mother leaving Russia. They each end up in Argentina, where they met in the language common to both bilinguals Spanish. In essence, the crafting of Dorfman's identity begins there, as he was "conceived in Spanish, literally imagined into being by that language " (Heading South, 14). This allows us to observe how the travels of Dorfman's parents are directly causal to two central pieces of Dorfman's identity: his name, Vladimiro, and his language, Spanish (for the time being). The name "Vladimiro" is an important part of Dorfman's identity because it is born from his father's learned values and experiences. In essence, Dorfman inherits the product of his father's own inner journey that included a fascination with Vladimir Ilyich Lenin and the Bolshevik Revolution. This is only the beginning of Dorfman's metaphorical and physical journeys, as throughout the course of the book, Dorman encounters new ideals which shift his goals considerably; most often, it is travel which causes this reorientation.
The physical journeys that Dorfman embarks on are directly linked with his inner search for his own identity. The passage that best serves to illustrate the connection between the physical and inner journeys that Dorfman takes reads:
I had decided not to go back North. It was time to take all the simultaneous roads into Latin America I could find or perhaps it was Latin America, during that frantic decade, taking the roads into me, invading me, penetrating me, saturating my senses, filling me with people, with landscapes, with foods, with colors, with projects, a jumble of interrogations. I set out to explore the space and the people around me with a fury enhanced by the awareness of all the energy I had wasted purging my Spanish and turning my back on my Latino self. (Heading South, 162)
Dorfman appears to be in constant transition, whether it is through his many trips between The United States and Chile, or between English-style boarding schools and college universities. In this passage, Dorfman expresses feelings indicating that he is anxious to take root in a country with which he fully identifies. Each trip that he physically takes corresponds to some internal transition as well. In the case described by the preceding passage, it is Dorfman's return to Latin America that causes him to look inward and question his own identity. The section of the passage that reads "It was time to take all the simultaneous roads into Latin America I could find or perhaps it was Latin America, during that frantic decade, taking the roads into me " shows how both physical and self-exploring journeys occur are interrelated, although we know that in Dorfman's case, it is most often the physical journey which spurs the start of his internal struggles. The way Dorfman describes Latin America as "invading" and "penetrating" him with its roads, serves to further demonstrate how the environment around him affects his identity search. This fact is in sharp contrast to the type of physical journey portrayed in Michael Radford's Il Postino, as Mario's identity search does not take him further than the boundaries of his hometown.
Il Postino is another story in which the protagonist is searching for his own identity. Mario's journey is primarily of the internal variety, as his physical journey only takes him as far as Pablo Neruda's residence within the boarders of his own town. Mario's trips back and forth to Neruda's house illustrate his metaphorical journeys in search of his own identity. Mario's travels become important more for the reasons that he makes them, rather than for their geographical significance. Since Mario is on a mission to discover himself, he seeks Neruda's input on most of the new things that occur in his life, and is also very impressionable while in Neruda's presence. Mario takes Neruda's advice as infallible, and seems to try to build his new character around attributes that he feels Neruda possesses and respects; for instance, expressiveness and political idealism. Mario's development can be most clearly observed through the changes in his social interaction. In the initial scenes of the film, Mario can hardly form coherent sentences. However, after his relationship with Neruda has developed, Mario can hardly be recognized by viewers in the way that he speaks, especially to Beatrice. At their first meeting, Mario is captivated into a dumb silence and barely manages to ask the woman for her name. After a few journeys back and forth to consult Neruda, however, Mario is soon wooing Beatrice with poetry (some his own, some stolen), and telling her that "her smile spreads like a butterfly." In this instance, it was Mario's infatuation with Beatrice that caused him to make his physical journey to confer with Neruda.
Mario's journey to discover his own identity leads him to totally assimilate Neruda's beliefs and way of thinking however, this parroting is more out of Mario's love for the poet than for shared ideologies. Mario has lived in the same city for years, but only begins to notice the surrounding beauty of his homeland after Neruda's influence has transformed him. An important scene in the film shows Mario recording the sounds of the ocean, the wind in the leaves and the other "beautiful things in Italy" for Neruda. It is clear that from this scene that because of his internal journey of self-discovery, Mario begins to view his physical surroundings in a much different manner. This provides an extremely interesting contrast between Il Postino and Heading South, Looking North, because while Dorfman's geographical journeys aid him in his internal journey to discover his identity, Mario's character transformation allows him to discover and appreciate new things in his physical geography. This further illustrates the connection between the two types of journeys in question.
"Walking Around" illustrates journey as a metaphor, but in an entirely different manner than the two works previously discussed. Journey as a process is all but non-existent in this poem, as can be somewhat inferred by its title. The travel involved in "Walking Around" greatly departs from the intercontinental journeys of Dorfman, or even Mario's uphill bike ride. The pace of this poem is tired and meandering, which serves to parallel the feelings of the narrator. Where this poem differs most from the other two works is in regards to the destination or goal of the described journey. The goal that is sought after in Heading South, Looking North and in Il Postino is replaced in whole in "Walking Around" by an entirely different breed of journey a routine. When Neruda writes " feeling wizened and numbed, like a big, wooly swan, awash on an ocean of clinkers and causes" (Walking Around, lines 3-4), the terrible fatigue and numbness becomes very tangible to us as readers. A "clinker" by definition, is a non-combustible, non-descript lump, which may indicate that the narrator no longer harbors a "spark" for life, further supported by the line that reads "Being a man leaves me cold: that's how it is" (Walking Around, line 12). Even the identity search is different in this poem; it seems as though the narrator knows who he is, but is simply tired of being himself; or any man for that matter. This work strays from the other two in that character development and identity struggle is seemingly replaced with the stagnancy of the narrator's own self-image.
In these three works, journey as a metaphor is represented in a number of different ways. In both Heading South, Looking North and Il Postino, travel plays a central role to the protagonist's self-exploration. However, in "Walking Around," the idea of changing locations is not emphasized, as the narrator expresses his disgust with traveling anywhere as a man. The idea of internal journey, however, is portrayed in all three works, with the main character of each work making an inward journey in order to clear up some identity issues. However different, all three works in discussion allow us to observe journey as a metaphor, effectively drawing parallels between seemingly diverse concepts and storylines.