Ransom

by

David Malouf

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Earth and Water Symbol Analysis

Earth and Water Symbol Icon

The supernatural is not nearly so strong a force in Ransom as it is in the Iliad, where gods are continuously intervening in human affairs, often in extreme or fantastical ways. With that said, the novel does draw a clear distinction between the spiritual and the physical, and it uses the elements of water and earth to illuminate that distinction. This is particularly clear in Malouf’s depiction of Achilles, whose spiritual and immortal side has a quite literal connection to water; in Greek mythology, Achilles’s mother was the sea goddess Thetis. The fluidity of water, however, also makes it an appropriate symbol for the spiritual world, which is not bound to fixed physical forms (e.g. bodies). By contrast, earth represents human physicality and mortality. This is true not only in a literal sense—Achilles, for instance, knows that his body will eventually “go back” to the soil—but also in a metaphorical one. In the aftermath of losing Patroclus, Achilles succumbs to a kind of living death, unable to move on or even feel anything other than emptiness and grief—a state the novel describes as “earth-heaviness.”

Earth and Water Quotes in Ransom

The Ransom quotes below all refer to the symbol of Earth and Water. For each quote, you can also see the other characters and themes related to it (each theme is indicated by its own dot and icon, like this one:
Fate, Chance, and Change Theme Icon
). Note: all page numbers and citation info for the quotes below refer to the Vintage edition of Ransom published in 2009.
Part 1 Quotes

The man is a fighter, but when he is not fighting, earth is his element. One day, he knows, he will go back to it…But for the whole of his life he has been drawn, in his other nature, to his mother's element. To what, in all its many forms…is shifting and insubstantial.

Related Characters: Achilles
Related Symbols: Earth and Water
Page Number: 4
Explanation and Analysis:
Part 2 Quotes

He is obliged, in his role as king, to think of the king's sacred body, this brief six feet of earth he moves and breathes in—aches and sneezes and all—as at once a body like any other and an abstract of the lands he represents, their living map.

Related Characters: Priam
Related Symbols: Earth and Water
Page Number: 43
Explanation and Analysis:
Part 4 Quotes

He knows what this sudden suspension of his hard, manly qualities denotes. This melting in him of will, of self. Under its aspect things continue to be just themselves, but what is apprehensible to him now is a fluidity in them that on other occasions is obscured.

Related Characters: Achilles
Related Symbols: Earth and Water
Page Number: 172
Explanation and Analysis:

This is the first world we come into, he thinks now, his world of hot-water pitchers and oil jars and freshly laundered linen or wool. And the last place we pass through before our body is done with it all. Unheroic thoughts.

Related Characters: Achilles, Hector
Related Symbols: Earth and Water
Page Number: 193
Explanation and Analysis:
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Earth and Water Symbol Timeline in Ransom

The timeline below shows where the symbol Earth and Water appears in Ransom. The colored dots and icons indicate which themes are associated with that appearance.
Part 1
Identity, Humanity, and Mortality Theme Icon
As the sun rises, a man—Achilles—stands on the shore looking out over the sea, hoping to hear his mother’s voice. Although he came from the sea and still feels... (full context)
Identity, Humanity, and Mortality Theme Icon
The Epic and the Everyday Theme Icon
...the present, Achilles feels as if he is looking across time as he surveys the sea, and thinks about how he and the rest of the Greek army has been camped... (full context)
Fate, Chance, and Change Theme Icon
Identity, Humanity, and Mortality Theme Icon
As Achilles walks away from the water and toward the Greek camp, he thinks about how he himself will not die in... (full context)
Identity, Humanity, and Mortality Theme Icon
Achilles did nothing but grieve for two days after Patroclus’s death, pouring dirt over his head in anguish. Eventually, however, Patroclus’s ghost appeared and asked Achilles to bury... (full context)
Fate, Chance, and Change Theme Icon
Identity, Humanity, and Mortality Theme Icon
...spirit. Now, however, he has lost his taste for running and feels a sense of "earth-heaviness". He senses that something unexpected needs to happen to bring him out of his stupor,... (full context)
Part 2
Fate, Chance, and Change Theme Icon
...kill Hector and defile his body. Priam ran down to the city gates and poured dirt over his crowned head, which he saw (and sees) as a fitting symbol of how... (full context)
Part 3
Language, Storytelling, and Empathy Theme Icon
The Epic and the Everyday Theme Icon
Somax wades into the river and quickly realizes that Priam has not followed. Although still uncomfortable with the difference in... (full context)
Identity, Humanity, and Mortality Theme Icon
Language, Storytelling, and Empathy Theme Icon
...a griddlecake by reminding him that humans are not solely spiritual, but also children of “earth.” This comment impresses Priam, who has typically tried to distance himself from bodily needs. (full context)
Identity, Humanity, and Mortality Theme Icon
The Epic and the Everyday Theme Icon
...asks Somax about his other son, and Somax points to a spot further along the river, where he says his son died. Somax explains that his son was trying to ford... (full context)
Language, Storytelling, and Empathy Theme Icon
The Epic and the Everyday Theme Icon
The cart begins to ford the river, and Beauty loses her footing at one point, nearly pitching both the treasure and her... (full context)
Fate, Chance, and Change Theme Icon
Identity, Humanity, and Mortality Theme Icon
Language, Storytelling, and Empathy Theme Icon
...to the underworld, it occurs to Somax that they might have died while fording the river. Hermes, however, clarifies that he has been sent to take them not to the afterlife,... (full context)
Part 4
Fate, Chance, and Change Theme Icon
Identity, Humanity, and Mortality Theme Icon
...with them. Achilles slips into a frame of mind he associates with his mother and water, and the world around him seems to take on a fluid quality. (full context)
Fate, Chance, and Change Theme Icon
Identity, Humanity, and Mortality Theme Icon
Language, Storytelling, and Empathy Theme Icon
Achilles thinks about what Priam has said, recalling how he felt standing by the ocean that morning, thinking of the water as a symbol of eternity. Priam’s speech has had... (full context)
Fate, Chance, and Change Theme Icon
The Epic and the Everyday Theme Icon
Achilles follows as his grooms take Hector’s body to a laundry room to be washed and shrouded. The female servants there are reluctant to begin while a man is present,... (full context)
The Epic and the Everyday Theme Icon
...wakes Priam, who looks frightened before he remembers what is going on. Achilles offers Priam water to wash with, and Priam notes with amusement the behavior of the attendants holding the... (full context)
Part 5
Fate, Chance, and Change Theme Icon
Identity, Humanity, and Mortality Theme Icon
The Epic and the Everyday Theme Icon
As the cart fords the river once more, Priam thinks back to their earlier crossing, and all of the simple pleasures... (full context)