The main character, Ovid, is a vivid example of how lives can be periodically changed according to alterations in the surrounding environment. At the start of the book Ovid is a stranger to his setting, stranded in a culture that deprives him of his language, his customs, and his pride. This shows that identity is primarily constructed according to the society in which people are placed, and much social learning and norms are derived from conformity to the conditions of a particular environment. In An Imaginary Life, Ovid completes a journey of self discovery, learning how to create and cultivate an existence based on interrelationship with the natural world, entering a into partly idealistic and imaginary existence, hence the title.
There are consistent parallels created through descriptions of Ovid’s political status. Due to his ostracism, he is separated both from outside elements of society and ideals that exist in his own mind. In the opening paragraphs, Ovid describes his natural surroundings and the characteristics of the landscape, and ends with the statement:
But I am describing a state of mind, no place.
I am in exile here....
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...h the natural environment, utilizing the ageless and continuous attributes of the natural environment. This ideal is fulfilled in the last section of the novel, where both Ovid and the Boy are repeatedly described as being 'there', showing the ability of the natural environment to provide unity and irrelevance of human constraints.
The novel An Imaginary Life is a poignant profile of the relationship between man and his environment. Malouf's main interest in self is in its capacity for transformation, and the process which the change involves, 'the beings we are in process of becoming.' Through the characterisation of Ovid and the Boy, various issues and themes associated with both the social and natural environments are explored, as each of them undertakes a journey of transformation which ultimately draws them closer to the natural elements of the earth.
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