Fly Away Peter


David Malouf

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Fly Away Peter: Chapter 9 Summary & Analysis

In the military, Jim is grouped with a number of Australians, including a man named Clancy Parkett who is a kindhearted trouble-maker. Jim takes a liking to Clancy, who tells stories about his outings with women in the days before the war. Later on, he meets another Australian, Bobby Cleese. Bobby likes to talk about Deception Bay, where he used to go fishing. Jim takes comfort in listening to these stories, especially when he and Bobby are stranded in a “shell-hole” for an entire day and night. Close enough to hear the enemy striking matches, Jim revels in Bobby’s words, which remind him of home. Even more comforting, though, are the birds that fly above, enabling Jim to think about how the different parts of his life are connected and “to find his way back at times to a natural cycle of things.”
Looking into the sky, Jim finds continuity between his past and present circumstances. Ever since he said farewell to his father, he has felt as if there is a line between his old life and his current one, but now he manages to hold onto something that has remained the same in both: the presence of birds. This, coupled with the familiarity of Bobby’s stories, helps him deal with the otherwise insurmountable amount of change that has recently overtaken him.
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For some reason, a fellow soldier named Wizzer takes a disliking to Jim. Early on, Wizzer makes a point of tripping Jim, who finds himself suddenly wanting to viciously defend “whatever it was in him that Wizzer rejected.” This helps Jim understand himself, since “enemies, like friends, told you who you were.” As Jim and Wizzer square off to fight, Clancy steps in and takes Jim’s place, but the “spirit” of the fight is less murderous. From that point on, Jim avoids Wizzer—not because he fears the man, but because he fears the dark parts of himself that Wizzer might coax out.
Jim’s fear of Wizzer is similar to his fear of his father. In both cases, he isn’t afraid of his opponent, but rather of his own dark predilections, which he worries might come out if provoked. This helps him understand himself, since his “enemies” force him to consider the fact that there are many different sides to his own identity. In the same way that his past and present are in many ways separate, his own personality is also divided into various sections. By recognizing the existence of his rather unsavory side, Jim can focus on being a good person, thereby avoiding a darkness that he might otherwise have no idea exists within him at all.
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