The relationships that Jim Saddler establishes throughout Fly Away Peter exemplify the fact that friendship often arises when people share something in common. For instance, when Jim first gets to know Ashley Crowther, he appreciates the respect Ashley has for birds—a respect Jim shares. Once the two men discover this mutual fascination, their friendship is able to take form. A similar thing happens when Jim meets Miss Imogen Harcourt, who is a photographer and bird hobbyist; he feels connected to her because she also enjoys the beauty of these small animals. With both Ashley and Miss Harcourt, Jim finds himself drawn toward friendship because of a shared interest or mindset. In addition, these relationships blossom according to the surrounding context, meaning that Jim connects with Ashley and Miss Harcourt in a manner that makes sense for the environment in which they interact. Indeed, Ashley’s sanctuary is a tranquil setting, and so both of these relationships develop quiet and assured qualities. Later, when he goes to war, Jim discovers that even unfavorable circumstances can lay the groundwork for friendship, since the battlefield forces a common experience upon people, which they can use to connect. Throughout the novel, Jim’s social interactions exhibit the fact that human relationships are shaped and informed by the environments in which they develop.
When Jim and Ashley first meet, they have very little in common. At least, this is true of their backgrounds. After all, Jim is from the lower-middle class and has never left Australia, whereas Ashley is wealthy and has just returned to the country after many years of attending school in England. As if the differences between the two men aren’t already noticeable, the mere fact that Ashley—only three years Jim’s senior—owns so much land is indication enough that these two men have led very different lives.
Despite this, they still manage to connect. This is because Jim finds a way to bring Ashley into his own world by pointing out a bird and giving him some information about it. Ashley stumbles upon Jim looking at a “Dollar bird” on his property, and rather than picking up and leaving, Jim directs his attention to the animal. “Ashley followed his gaze. The land shifted into a clearer focus, and he might himself have been able, suddenly, to see it in all its detail […]. He was intensely aware for a moment how much life there might be in any square yard of it,” Malouf writes. By helping Ashley see the beauty that he sees, Jim effectively invites him to share an appreciation of the land. In turn, Ashley suddenly sees everything in “a clearer focus.” This, it seems, is how Jim views the world, and so the two men begin to share an outlook. In turn, their mutual appreciation for the land and the birds turns into a quiet friendship made up of long and mostly silent expeditions into the wilderness.
Like his relationship with Ashley, Jim’s friendship with Miss Harcourt is built upon mutual interest and understanding. At first, though, Miss Harcourt isn’t sure if they’ll get along. When Jim comes to her cottage after seeing her take a picture of a bird that he was also looking at, she wonders about the nature of his visit: “She couldn’t tell for the moment whether they would be friends or not; whether he had come here to share something or to protect a right.” Miss Harcourt worries that Jim hasn’t come to “share” his interest in birds with her, but to claim it as his own. She worries that he is going to tell her to stop taking photographs in Ashley’s sanctuary. Fortunately, this isn’t Jim’s way. In reality, he only wants to connect with her based on what they have in common. Jim, for his part, quickly feels a sense of kinship with her because they both appreciate the same things: “He found he understood almost everything she said straight off, and this was unusual.” Later, when they have firmly established their friendship, they enjoy each other’s company on trips into Ashley’s wilderness, where they sit “silent for the most part” and wait to catch a glimpse of a bird. This easy and “silent” companionship not only shows how comfortable they are with each other, but also the extent to which they take cues from their surrounding environment, relaxing into a kind of tranquility that aligns with both the land and their friendship itself.
The stress of war makes it easy for Jim to relate to his fellow soldiers, since they’re all in the same predicament and therefore have something in common. However, he still finds himself at odds with a man named Wizzer, who makes a point of tripping him one day in the trenches. For whatever reason, Wizzer refuses to see Jim as a potential friend. When Wizzer picks a fight with him, any kind of shared experience that might otherwise bond them together slips away. Malouf writes that “Jim had found himself defending whatever it was in him that Wizzer rejected, and discovered that he needed this sudden, unexpected confrontation to see who he was and what he had to defend.” In this scene, a sense of wartime animosity has trickled into Wizzer’s treatment of Jim. Although Jim doesn’t necessarily invite this kind of antagonism, he comes to see it as a valuable thing, something that helps him understand himself.
Interestingly, though, the dynamic of Jim’s relationship with Wizzer changes later on, when the immediate context surrounding their interactions suddenly shifts. Indeed, Jim’s platoon gets separated one night on the battlefield as Germans ruthlessly fire at them. Unable to see in the dark, the soldiers run frantically about, desperately trying to find their way back to the group. At one point, Jim drops into a pit for cover, and just as he’s about to run back into the mayhem, a man grabs him and starts fighting with him. After several moments of struggle, Jim realizes that this man is Wizzer. “Wizzer!” he shouts, “it’s me, you mad bugger. Jim. A friend!” The fact that Jim calls himself “a friend” proves that human relationships depend heavily upon the surrounding context. Whereas Jim and Wizzer were once adversaries, now they see one another as friends. By emphasizing this abrupt transformation, Malouf solidifies the notion that interpersonal connections don’t exist in and of themselves, but in relation to circumstance.
Friendship and Human Connection ThemeTracker
Friendship and Human Connection Quotes in Fly Away Peter
Ashley was too incoherent to have explained and Jim would have been embarrassed to hear it, but he understood. All this water, all these boughs and leaves and little clumps of tussocky grass that were such good nesting-places and feeding grounds belonged inviolably to the birds. The rights that could be granted to a man by the Crown, either for ninety-nine years or in perpetuity, were of another order and didn’t quite mean what they said.
His voice was husky and the accent broad; he drawled. The facts he gave were unnecessary and might have been pedantic. But when he named the bird, and again when he named the island, he made them sound, Ashley thought, extraordinary. He endowed them with some romantic quality that was really in himself. An odd interest revealed itself, the fire of an individual passion.
“So this is it,” he said admiringly. […] “Where you work.”
“Yes,” she said, “here and out there.”
As he was to discover, she often made these distinctions, putting things clearer, moving them into a sharper focus.
“The light, and then the dark.”
[T]hey moved with their little lives, if they moved at all, so transiently across his lands—even when they were natives and spent their whole lives there—and knew nothing of Ashley Crowther. They shocked him each time he came here with the otherness of their being. He could never quite accept that they were, he and these creatures, of the same world. It was as if he had inherited a piece of the next world, or some previous one. That was why he felt such awe when Jim so confidently offered himself as an intermediary and named them: ‘Look, the Sacred Kingfisher. From Borneo.’”
It seemed odd to her that it should be so extraordinary, though it was of course, this common little visitor to the shores of her childhood, with its grating cry that in summers back there she would, before it was gone, grow weary of, which here was so exotic, and to him so precious.
Jim regarded it in a spirit of superstitious dread; and in fact these machines too, in the last months, had entered a new dimension. After just a few seasons of gliding over the hills casting unusual shadows and occasionally clipping the tops of trees, new toys of a boyish but innocent adventuring, they had changed their nature and become weapons. Already they were being used to drop bombs and had been organized, in Europe, into a new fighting arm.
[Bob Cleese] was a bee-keeper back home. That was all Jim knew of him. A thin, quiet fellow from Buderim, and it occurred to him as they lay there that they might understand one another pretty well if there was a time after this when they could talk. Everything here happened so quickly. Men presented themselves abruptly in the light of friends or enemies and before you knew what had happened they were gone.
Jim had run a half mile through the swath he had cut in the standing grain with the image in his head of the child caught there among the smashed stalks and bloodied ears of wheat, and been unable when he arrived at the McLaren’s door to get the image, it so filled him, into words. There were no words for it, then or ever, and the ones that came said nothing of the sound the metal had made striking the child’s skull, or the shocking whiteness he had seen of stripped bone, and would never be fitted in any language to the inhuman shriek—he had thought it was some new and unknown bird entering the field—of the boy’s first cry. It had gone down, that sound, to become part of what was unspoken between them at every meal so long as his mother was still living and they retained some notion of being a family.
There were so many worlds. They were all continuous with one another and went on simultaneously: that man’s world, intent on his ancient business with the hoe; his own world, committed to bringing these men up to a battle; their worlds, each one, about which he could only guess.
He saw it all, and himself a distant, slow-moving figure within it: […] the new and the old dead; his own life neither more nor less important than the rest, even in his own vision of the thing, but unique because it was his head that contained it and in his view that all these balanced lives for a moment existed: the men going about their strange business of killing and being killed, but also the rats, the woodlice under logs, a snail that might be climbing up a stalk, quite deaf to the sounds of battle, an odd bird or two […]
Maybe she would go on from birds to waves. They were as various and as difficult to catch at their one moment.
That was it, the thought she had been reaching for. Her mind gathered and held it, on a breath, before the pull of the earth drew it apart and sent it rushing down with such energy into the flux of things.
That is what life meant, a unique presence, and it was essential in every creature. To set anything above it, birth, position, talent even, was to deny to all but a few among the infinite millions what was common and real, and what was also, in the end, most moving. A life wasn’t for anything. It simply was.