Ransom

by

David Malouf

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Ransom: Part 5 Summary & Analysis

Summary
Analysis
The sun is rising as Priam and Somax leave the Greek encampment. As they do so, they pass by burial mounds and watch people hunt for wood and souvenirs among the graves. Some time later, they drive by a burned village, and a few children—orphaned or abandoned—come out to watch them pass.
Priam and Somax's journey back to Troy offers a rare glimpse into the effects of the war on the common people of Troy. Perhaps surprisingly, however, the scene is not one of total desolation. In fact, even the burial mounds are supporting a kind of "life" by furnishing people with wood and valuables. This, again, points to the ways in which life and death are intertwined in Ransom. The orphaned children, meanwhile, are the flipside to the main form of loss depicted in the novel; unlike Priam, who has a lost a child, these children have lost their parents.
Themes
Identity, Humanity, and Mortality Theme Icon
The Epic and the Everyday Theme Icon
Eventually, Priam asks Somax to stop the cart, and the king climbs down, walking around to the back of the wagon to Hector’s body. Somax hears Priam crying and thinks about the night he and his wife spent mourning over their eldest son’s body. His thoughts eventually drift to the end of this “adventure” and to his reunion with his granddaughter, whom he hopes to surprise with a present.
Priam's actions in this passage contrast sharply with the earlier description of the king publically pouring handfuls of dirt over his head in response to Hector's death. Whereas the latter was a somewhat ceremonial expression of grief, this is an intensely private and personal moment, which suggests that Priam's relationship to his son has become more individualized and human, if only in death. Somax's response underscores this point, since he recognizes the "small sounds" of Priam's grief as ones that he himself has made. The fact that Somax's thoughts turn from this to his granddaughter is a testament to the ability of life to go on in the wake of extreme loss and upheaval. Relatedly, Somax's apparent happiness at the thought of returning to life "as usual" points to the priority Malouf gives to the ordinary and everyday. When all is said and done, the momentous meeting between Priam and Achilles is simply a minor "adventure" for Somax, whose primary focus is on the unheroic details of his own life.
Themes
Identity, Humanity, and Mortality Theme Icon
The Epic and the Everyday Theme Icon
Priam mounts the cart again, pondering what he has accomplished as Somax drives on. Although he recognizes that the moment is bittersweet in many ways, he also feels that it is a kind of victory—not only because of the fame it will bring him, but also because of the way it has changed him.
Priam's reflections during the return journey pull together all of the novel's themes. Priam's rebirth as an ordinary man and father comes at a very late hour in his life, and will do nothing to prevent either his own death or the fall of Troy. Nevertheless, Ransom suggests that the transformation is an important one, not only for Priam's own sake, but also for everyone who will eventually hear his story. This is in keeping with Malouf's broader ideas about identity and the virtues of ordinary life. In the end, Ransom suggests that the most honorable and difficult role an individual can assume is being "merely" human.
Themes
Fate, Chance, and Change Theme Icon
Identity, Humanity, and Mortality Theme Icon
Language, Storytelling, and Empathy Theme Icon
The Epic and the Everyday Theme Icon
Related Quotes
As the cart fords the river once more, Priam thinks back to their earlier crossing, and all of the simple pleasures he had discovered siting alongside the water. Troy appears far off in the distance, and Priam feels as though he is being welcomed home by the same divine music that first accompanied the raising of the city’s walls.
Far from detracting from his status as King of Troy, Priam's experiences of life as an ordinary man have made him at home in the role as he never was before. Bolstered by the memory of the time he spent sitting on the riverbank, Priam returns home in a state of "exultant wellbeing." He even gives himself over to the same gods that he had earlier suspected of "mocking" him, allowing them to draw him onward with their music. Priam, in other words, is newly accepting of his fate as King of Troy, even knowing where it will lead him.
Themes
Fate, Chance, and Change Theme Icon
Identity, Humanity, and Mortality Theme Icon
The Epic and the Everyday Theme Icon
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Back in the Greek camp, Achilles also feels he has a new lease on life—so much so, in fact, that as he practices swordplay he feels his impending death has been “suspended.” The narrator, however, reminds his readers that this is not the case, explaining that Neoptolemus is already on his way to Troy, eager to claim his part in the story and fantasizing about killing Priam.
In this passage, Malouf once again uses the idea of suspension to capture an experience that seems to take place outside the bounds of time and mortality. Although Achilles knows on some level that he will die soon, he is no longer defined by this knowledge, instead feeling the "lightness" of his "spirit" at work in him again. That being the case, Malouf's reminder of Achilles's impending death comes across as brutally terse: "It has not [been suspended]." The abrupt change in tone sets the stage for the description of Priam's death that follows.
Themes
Fate, Chance, and Change Theme Icon
Identity, Humanity, and Mortality Theme Icon
The narrator skips forward, explaining that Priam’s actual death will be nothing like what Neoptolemus had imagined. Instead of mildly accepting his death, Priam watches in terror as Neoptolemus runs towards him, and then tries to twist out of his grip. Neoptolemus, meanwhile, is also frightened—in his case, by all he has to live up to as Achilles’s son. Eventually, Neoptolemus manages to slit Priam’s throat, but he is unnerved when Priam smiles at him as he dies. As Neoptolemus rises to his feet again, he feels overwhelming despair and shame, and asks his father for forgiveness. The narrator, however, says that Neoptolemus will be haunted by the moment for the rest of his life.
Malouf's decision to include a graphic account of Priam's murder might seem puzzling at first glance. While it certainly underscores the idea that certain aspects of fate are sealed, it does so in such a grisly manner that it risks overshadowing the significance of the internal changes Priam and Achilles have experienced in Ransom. That said, the scene also functions as a final reminder of the potential hollowness of an "epic" life. Neoptolemus wants to be a "hero" on the same level as his father. His actions, however, are "boyish," clumsy, and ultimately a source of great shame to him, despite the public fame he enjoys as Priam's killer. His actions also run counter to the realizations Achilles has had over the course of the novel. Far from avenging his father, then, Neoptolemus's actions in this passage actually dishonor his memory.
Themes
Fate, Chance, and Change Theme Icon
Identity, Humanity, and Mortality Theme Icon
Language, Storytelling, and Empathy Theme Icon
The Epic and the Everyday Theme Icon
Related Quotes
The narrative skips back to the present, where Priam is pointing out a figure—presumably Helen of Troy—to Somax. Somax, however, is largely uninterested, because he is still trying to settle on what gifts to get for his granddaughter, daughter-in-law, and the two mules.
The blink-and-miss-it reference to Helen in this passage is perhaps the strongest evidence in the novel as to where Malouf's interest lies. The abduction of Helen was what kickstarted the Trojan War, so a reader might plausibly expect any story about that war to deal with her. In Ransom, however, she is barely present and completely overlooked by Somax in favor of more down-to-earth concerns.
Themes
The Epic and the Everyday Theme Icon
As Somax thinks about the stories he will be able to tell about this episode, the narrative once more skips forward to describe his future listeners’ reactions. At first, the stories will seem real and visceral to them, but after the fall of Troy, the people that Somax is speaking of will slowly take on a legendary quality. Eventually, his listeners will be entirely unfamiliar with the wealthy and sophisticated city Somax is describing, because they will have lived their entire lives in an insecure and brutal world.
If Ransom is in large part about the transformation of Priam and Achilles into ordinary humans, the novel's final pages reverse the process. Figures that were once "flesh and blood" to the people of Troy become abstract and legendary as time passes. Although Somax's stories themselves do not appear to change, it becomes increasingly harder for his listeners to imagine the characters he describes as real people—in part because the mundane details Somax provides do not jibe with their ideas about how kings, warriors, and gods would act. In a sense, then, this passage traces the process by which Malouf's relatively "ordinary" versions of Priam and Achilles could have been the larger-than-life figures that appear in Greek mythology.
Themes
Language, Storytelling, and Empathy Theme Icon
The Epic and the Everyday Theme Icon
Even as the world around him changes, Somax keeps entertaining his listeners with his stories, describing how he once met Hermes, convinced Priam to dip his feet in the River Scamander, and ate a meal given to him by Achilles. His listeners accept the basic truth of his stories—that Priam went to visit Achilles during the war—but do not believe that Somax himself was actually involved in the events he described. They don’t believe Somax both because he has a reputation for stretching the truth, and also because the little details he provides seem out of keeping with the grandeur of the subject. Instead, they see Somax as an ordinary carter whose biggest claim to fame is the pretty mule he once owned named Beauty.
On the face of it, Ransom's ending might seem anticlimactic or even inappropriate, given the rest of the novel's tone. Malouf not only ends with Somax (rather than Priam or Achilles), but also seems to dismiss the entire plot of the novel by suggesting that no one believes the carter's stories. It is important to remember, however, that Ransom is to a large extent about Achilles's and Priam's rediscovery of the everyday world as a source of pleasure and continuity. In that sense, it is fitting that Ransom ends with Beauty—a source of humble but real delight to those around her. The implication is that life has gone on, even in the wake of Troy's fall.
Themes
Language, Storytelling, and Empathy Theme Icon
The Epic and the Everyday Theme Icon
Related Quotes