Fly Away Peter


David Malouf

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Fly Away Peter: Chapter 6 Summary & Analysis

As August fades into September, new birds arrive in the swamplands. “Refugees,” Miss Harcourt calls them, a word Jim has never heard. In his best handwriting, he records these new arrivals in a “serious” manner; “It was giving the creature, through its name, a permanent place in the world, as Miss Harcourt did through pictures.” When he shows Ashley the lists, he’s pleased to hear his friend deem it beautiful. What he really appreciates, though, is that Ashley never says anything when he sees the actual birds—only when he looks at the lists. This, Jim feels, is how it should be. He likes that “The Book” elicits “verbal praise” from Ashley but that the actual birds are met with silence. Later that year, when Ashley marries Julia Bell, Jim gives them The Book and Miss Harcourt’s sandpiper photograph.
Jim not only takes pleasure in writing out bird names, he also sees the task as “serious” work. Indeed, writing out these names gives a “creature, through its name, a permanent place in the world.” This is especially significant for Jim because of his sense that the world is in the midst of rapidly changing. Worried that his own life is about to completely transform because of the war, he commits himself to establishing a sense of permanence with language, which he uses to identify birds that would otherwise go unrecorded and, thus, remain fleeting and mysterious.
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