Ransom

by

David Malouf

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Ransom Symbol Analysis

Ransom Symbol Icon

Ransom payment is without question the most important symbol in Malouf’s novel, but its meaning is complex and multilayered. In fact, the treasure that Priam provides to Achilles in exchange for his son Hector’s body is just one of a series of “payments” in Ransom, each of which adds nuance to the basic idea of buying back something valuable. Priam’s name, for instance, means the “price paid”—a reference to the fact that as a boy he was nearly sold into slavery after Heracles sacked Troy, and his freedom was only secured (or “purchased”) when his sister begged it as a “gift” from Heracles. His second lease on life, however, also comes at a price: his first name and identity, Podarces, was changed to Priam after he was granted his freedom. And so the gift of freedom also requires a kind of “death.” This episode, then, begins to link the literal payment of ransom to the figurative price humans pay for being alive: death. Priam eventually makes this symbolism explicit in a speech he delivers as he pleads with Achilles; arguing that the two of them are united in their mortality, Priam describes death as a “fee paid in advance.”

However, while death itself is a form of ransom in the novel, Malouf also suggests that the payment of ransom can be a way of cheating death. When Priam imagines bringing Hector’s body back, for example, he describes his son as “newly restored and shining, restored and ransomed,” as if his own actions have preserved Hector’s body from the physical effects of death. In reality, it is the gods who have protected Hector’s body from decay, but Priam’s remarks raise the possibility of metaphorically overcoming death through payment or sacrifice. As the novel ends, for instance, Achilles feels newly alive despite the fact that he knows his own death is rapidly approaching, simply because his interaction with Priam has given him a new identity as a human rather than as a warrior.

Ransom Quotes in Ransom

The Ransom quotes below all refer to the symbol of Ransom. 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 2 Quotes

This time, when I look behind me, what is glowing out from under the coverlet…is the body of my son Hector, all his limbs newly restored and shining, restored and ransomed.

Related Characters: Priam (speaker), Hector
Related Symbols: Ransom
Page Number: 56
Explanation and Analysis:

And perhaps, because it is unexpected, it may appeal to him to: the chance to break free of the obligation of being always the hero, as I am expected always to be the king. To take on the lighter bond of being simply a man. Perhaps that is the real gift I have to bring him. Perhaps that is the ransom.

Related Characters: Priam (speaker), Achilles
Related Symbols: Ransom
Page Number: 59-60
Explanation and Analysis:
Part 4 Quotes

[Death] is the hard bargain life makes with us—with all of us, every one—and the condition we share. And for that reason, if for no other, we should have pity for one another's losses.

Related Characters: Priam, Achilles, Patroclus, Hector
Related Symbols: Ransom
Page Number: 184
Explanation and Analysis:
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Ransom Symbol Timeline in Ransom

The timeline below shows where the symbol Ransom appears in Ransom. The colored dots and icons indicate which themes are associated with that appearance.
Part 2
Fate, Chance, and Change Theme Icon
The Epic and the Everyday Theme Icon
...beside a common driver. The cart is towing a covered load that Priam recognizes as ransom for his son’s body. Now truly excited, Priam rushes off to find Hecuba. On the... (full context)
Identity, Humanity, and Mortality Theme Icon
Priam continues before Hecuba can interrupt, painting a picture of the cart first loaded with ransom—coins, plate, armor, etc.—and then after the exchange with Hector’s body, “all his limbs newly restored... (full context)
Fate, Chance, and Change Theme Icon
Identity, Humanity, and Mortality Theme Icon
...rule, the effort has taken a toll on him. Now, he says, he needs to “ransom” himself for the second time in his life by going to retrieve Hector’s body. Hecuba... (full context)
Fate, Chance, and Change Theme Icon
The Epic and the Everyday Theme Icon
That afternoon, Priam waits as his sons prepare a cart and assemble the ransom—a fortune in treasure. Instead of the simple vehicle he requested, however, they bring him a... (full context)
Fate, Chance, and Change Theme Icon
The Epic and the Everyday Theme Icon
As servants load the ransom onto the cart, those who are watching feel as if they are witnessing Hector’s body... (full context)
Part 4
Fate, Chance, and Change Theme Icon
Identity, Humanity, and Mortality Theme Icon
...here. Priam says that his herald (i.e. Somax) is outside the hut, along with the ransom he has brought. (full context)
Language, Storytelling, and Empathy Theme Icon
The Epic and the Everyday Theme Icon
Automedon returns, confirming the presence of the ransom and bringing Somax along with him. Achilles asks Somax whether he is the king’s herald... (full context)
Identity, Humanity, and Mortality Theme Icon
...be in the position he is in now, and that he is aware that no ransom can possibly make up for Hector’s loss. Nevertheless, he says, the act of offering the... (full context)