Having come up to the crowded frontlines in a massive battle, Jim and his fellow soldiers wait for the whistle that will tell them to move over the ridge of their shelter and charge forward. Leaning against the ditch’s wall, he looks at the men around him and notes the misery and exhaustion in their faces. Yet, he thinks, “The bodies were not all here. His own wasn’t.” In their minds, the men are in different countries or time periods altogether—some are in the past, some are already in the future, “out in the firestorm”; still others have already leapt past the battle, “to some calm green day on the other side of it.”
In his weariness, Jim thinks of his fellow soldiers as unbound by the conventional trappings of time and physicality. When he thinks of himself and his comrades as “not all here,” he frames them as withdrawn from the experience at hand. Rather than existing fully in the trenches, these men fantasize about their past lives and project themselves “into the future.” By putting this cognitive process on display, Malouf shows readers the power of the mind to transcend boundaries that are both physical and temporal.
When the whistle blows and Jim climbs onto the battlefield, he feels as if he’s watching himself from above in Bert’s biplane—watching as he makes his way across the field with bullets whizzing by and men beside him “springing backward or falling slowly from his side.” Jim sees everything, “himself a distant, slow-moving figure within it: the long view of all their lives, including his own.”
Jim’s ability to shift his perspective is even more pronounced than before. This is most likely because he needs to find a way to remove himself from his current environment in order to continue on. Desperate for some kind of escape, he withdraws from himself and takes “the long view” of his life, choosing to look at this moment on the battlefield as just one small experience in a succession of many experiences that make up an entire lifetime. His ability to see from above, here, further echoes his ability in the beginning of the story to envision the landscape both from the ground and above it.