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Fly Away Peter, written by David Malouf, is set in 1914-1915 during the period of World War One. The story of the main character, Jim, begins in his home in rural Queensland before embarking on a journey in France to fight in the war. Heart of Darkness, written by Joseph Conrad, is set in a similar period of time. The main character Marlow’s journey is to the Congo, which had recently become a part of the Belgium Empire. Both characters undertake a physical, intellectual and spiritual journey. They also learn about themselves individually as well as about humanity which brings them to question the meaning of life.
At the beginning of the two novels, both Jim and Marlow are somewhat innocent to what lay ahead of them. Malouf describes Jim as being in a state of ‘dangerous innocence’ in the early chapters of Fly Away Peter. He is portrayed as being a person who is not well educated, has limited experience of the world and doesn’t like change. ‘New views of the things didn’t interest him…’ pg. 50. In Heart of Darkness, Conrad portrays Marlow as a man who loves adventure, which is quite unlike the character of Jim. He has seen and experienced much of the world. However, he is innocent because he has never been to a place like Africa where colonialism exists. He has always lived in a civilized world controlled by rules and regulations and so has never witnessed the effect lack of restraint can have on people.
As Jim and Marlow undertake their physical journeys, both begin to lose their innocence and gain knowledge of the world. Jim begins to lose his innocence when he goes to Brisbane and sees how the news of war affects people. The change makes him realize he wants to experience more in his life and so enlists to fight in the war. On arrival in France Jim finds himself in a ‘world unlike anything he had ever known or imagined.’ p58 He experienced the horrors and living and fighting in the trenches and the way war transformed soldiers into different people that became unrecognizable. As he sees the people killed and replaced and killed again he becomes a veteran of war and feels himself growing older. Marlow begins to lose his innocence when he arrives in Africa and witnesses the effects of colonialism.
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Both authors use the journeys their characters undertake to raise questions about the meaning of life though their approach to the topic is very different. Heart of Darkness begins its story in the light of the Thames River and ends the book in darkness. Conrad uses this contrast of light and darkness throughout the book to give us his pessimistic views on life and humanity. ‘Droll thing life is – that mysterious arrangement of merciless logic for a futile purpose. The most you can hope from it some knowledge of yourself.’ p113 He comes to the conclusion that there is a dark side in every person that can never be changed. He gives the reader the idea that there is no hope for the future as this darkness is only being hidden through civilized ways. He gives the reader the idea that there is no hope for the future as this darkness is only being hidden through the light of civilized ways. ‘We live in the flicker – may it last as long as the old earth keeps rolling! But darkness was here yesterday.’ p19 Malouf’s approach in Fly Way Peter is much more optimistic. It begins in the beauty of nature and ends with the serenity of the beach. Although the book is set in depressing and bleak circumstances, he gives an optimistic view by giving the impression that there is always hope for the future and that life will go on. In the last chapter, Imogen is comforted by this realization. ‘A life wasn’t for anything. It simply was.’ p132
Both Conrad and Malouf use the spiritual and physical journeys of Marlow and Jim to develop their ideas and raise questions about the meaning of life. Conrad’s pessimistic view discusses the impact of colonialism and the need for rules and regulations set by society. Malouf discuses the impact war has on people’s lives but gives hope for humanity by giving the optimistic impression that life is a continuos cycle.