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Ransom: David Malouf

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In “a rough world of men” David Malouf highlights the importance of storytelling and the lessons that can be learnt from stories. He further strives to show how all people live out their own stories and that sometimes the most valuable lessons can be drawn from the lives that we least expect. Malouf introduces Somax, a “humble carter” who has a surprisingly dependable “native wit” to match even Priam, who is greatly influenced by simple aspects of Somax’s character and from this undergoes a transformation pivotal to his journey. Through this dangerous journey and Achilles’ final respite, Malouf signposts the possibilities for discovery and delight on offer if one is prepared to venture beyond the known boundaries of self and experience. Achilles is Malouf’s illustration of how often perceptions of character can be misled by appearances and be so different from reality, this is particularly evident in Somax, whose knowledge of life is revelatory, yet his stature is lowly.

Malouf exemplifies just how little we can predict the people who have the most to teach with Somax, a man of humble stature who can bring more to the table than meets the eye. Somax is “a plain workman” and has little “knowledge of the forms” or of social customs yet it is revealed that his expertise lies elsewhere, in the most basic things that can often be discarded. He has “so much simple modesty and good will, and so much tact in the way he made his suggestions” and shows to Priam how the “unnecessary and particular” can be “good for the body as well as the spirit”.

As is often the case, men of simple stature are stereotypically perceived to be of less intelligence or not considered to be wise or intellectual, but Somax understands the simple truths of common humanity and how the ordinary can be interesting and meaningful which shows his true value. Somax deals with grief in the healthiest way of the three protagonists with an attitude which reflects his sagacious character and despite all the events that take place and how they might emotionally impact the mind he believes that “the fleas go on biting. The sun comes up again” and “We go on. For all our losses.” This represents one of the many important messages Somax has to pass on, despite his low stature in the hierarchy of the world, and how “he knew things”, especially “about what is good for the body as well as the spirit”.

Somax teaches Priam about the importance of his family in telling the story of his son’s death, “so present and raw”, that Priam is able to fully comprehend the real emotion that Somax feels and the gap left in his heart after his son’s tragic death. The significance and importance of this lesson is that it allows Priam to realise his dream and deliver the material ransom as an “ordinary man”. Through this Malouf preaches Somax’s clear grasp of what is important in life, and that while he is an unlikely source of wisdom he is wise beyond his years. Malouf expresses that we cannot predict who will teach us lessons, or what we can discover if we dare to take a “chance”.

Malouf manifests Priam’s transformation in order to explain how hidden wonders can be discovered by those willing to take a risk and let their fate be subject to chance and also that it is possible to experience the “small pleasures of life” if one dares to disregard convention and tradition. This transformation showcases how change is possible to those who take risks or seek change within their own lives. Priam is an unlikely adversary of this notion, as he has lived all his life as “fixed and permanent. Unchangeable, therefore unchanged” yet he overcomes this barrier by his sheer determination and the motivation to be reunited with the body of his son Hector.

It is important that he learns to forsake his “royal custom” and “to take on the lighter bond of being simply a man” –the real ransom – in order to succeed with his mission and in doing so fulfils his desire to leave a lasting legacy on the earth beyond his own years, proving the significance of his transformation. Priam teaches us a lesson that by branching out and trying something new goods things can come and this is the same message he learns from Somax, the unlikely sage. Yet it is not only a lesson that Priam learns, rather he begins to open himself up to “all that had been none of his concern” and discover his own “curiosity”, a “new impulse in him”.

Because this is so different to what Priam had experienced before and his change was so stark, Malouf’s message is that change possible to those who take risks and seek it out can become stronger because of it. Despite Priam’s initial kingly nature, he is able to challenge his own customs to adopt the role of a ‘father’ and an “ordinary man” proving that often important lessons are not learnt from those we expect and how often appearance is so different from reality.

Through Achilles Malouf elaborates that what is perceived from the exterior is often a grand juxtaposition to what truly exists underneath. This clear indifference is cleverly demonstrated by Malouf through Achilles, “the boldest, most ferocious, most unpredictable of the Greeks”. Achilles is a fierce warrior and leader on the battlefield, but faces a different and omnipresent enemy in his head and from the outside he is portrayed as a “jackal, that noble bully” which is why it is all the more surprising to find that Achilles himself is none of those things. Malouf accentuates that Achilles is so consumed by grief that he loses his humanity, and in doing so further contrasts his already distanced warrior portrayal, teaching that often perceptions do not reflect the truth.

Achilles assuages his enmeshment by accepting the fate of his friend Patroclus and committing an act of compassion towards Priam, which ultimately helps him find concord and teaches an important lesson that sometimes the hardest tasks can reap the most worthwhile rewards, and that sometimes overcoming a problem is by changing the mental state to accept it as fate. This lesson is an unlikely one, as initially Achilles was so absorbed with his grief that he wouldn’t contemplate anything else, proving further how unpredictable his turnaround was and how some important lessons truly are and that often that’s why they have the most impact.

In David Malouf’s Ransom, the “humble carter’ Somax possesses a “native wit” of life, which greatly influences Priam and importantly allows him to fulfil his mission. Through this dangerous journey and Achilles’ final respite, Malouf suggest the possibilities for enlightenment and pleasure on offer if one is willing to venture beyond their comfort zone and take a risk. Achilles is used as Malouf’s vehicle in order to show how appearance is often starkly different to reality, and the important lessons this can teach us.

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