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The Ordinary Carter

In: English and Literature

Submitted By grandmastersuj
Words 1218
Pages 5
Sujaan Lal
Greek Classics Paper
Brian Doherty
Beneath the Surface: The Significance of Somax, the Ordinary Carter There has always a bond between a father and his son that is somewhat unexplainable. The strong generational connection between the two paves the way for both deep intimacy and love but also an overwhelming sense of grief their loss. David Malouf’s Ransom appropriates a section of Homer’s tale for closer examination in which he gives voice to Somax, a character of his own invention. Although he is introduced as an ordinary carter, Somax and his journey become intrinsic to Priam’s own self-discovery. The story of the carter helps his King experience a range of emotions he has never explored and introduces Priam to what it is like to “simply be a man.” Malouf draws an interesting comparison between Somax and Idaeus to differentiate between royalty and the common man. In the book, Somax is renamed Idaeus, the name of the royal wagoner. Priam’s selection of a peasant carter is in an effort to follow his vision and speak for himself. If a royal carter or herald had spoken for him, it would seem as if the gods had played a major role in their fate. Malouf throughout the book argues that Gods do not control fate, humans hold their destiny in their own hands. Additionally, Priam chooses to forgo his royal garb and its decadence for something more plain in an effort to appear more as a father than a king. Here we see Malouf taking a more modern approach in which he breaks from the time-honored story model in which the gods play large roles and take on very human characteristics. Priam is especially moved by the loss that Somax has endured. He has experienced the deaths of four daughters and three sons, a crippling loss to both mind and heart. Despite such intense pain however, he does not nurse feelings of hatred or revenge. The rage and fury that grips Achilles, in stark contrast, pushes him to defile Hector’s body by dragging it around Troy, a more Homeric and traditional reaction to the death of a loved one. Somax on the other hand, manages to accept the passing of his children and even forgives his mule Beauty, the reason for one of his son’s death. As the journey continues Priam begins to envy the intimacy that his driver had with his progeny. He begins to question if the loss of Hector was the same as the loss that Somax experienced. He wonders if the purpose of retrieving his son’s body is only to fulfill the centuries old practice of burying and honoring the dead. This sensitivity becomes the basis for his decision to appear as a “plain man, white haired and old” and beg for mercy from his son’s killer. The shift away from his customary role as an austere royal a more simple existence allows Priam to realize what is truly important. In this way Somax plays the role of releasing emotions and feelings his King had never been allowed to acknowledge. The introduction of the carter also represents a disagreement Malouf has with the Homeric way of dealing with grief. The aforementioned mule, Beauty, was responsible for the death of one of Somax’s son’s when she “lost her footing” and “knocked him sideways”. However, as opposed to Achilles who makes no effort to control his anger, Somax did the complete opposite and comforted his partner. They became fond of each other and formed an unbreakable bond in which Beauty became something he could lean on as opposed to the root of this trauma. Malouf suggests that this is a better way of dealing with grief and that anger can never help cope with loss. Malouf introduces the idea of family in the opening page of the book with Achilles feeling nostalgic for his recently deceased mother, Thetis, as he stands out at sea listening for her voice. It is the memory of his father that finally makes him responsive to Priam’s offer. Somax and his journey with Priam also reinforce the theme of fatherhood that reasserts itself throughout the book. Malouf tells the reader that the royal family’s relation to each other was abstract, especially that of Priam and Hector. Although the Prince of Troy’s achievements on the battlefield were a source of pride for his father, their relationship was “formal and symbolic, part of a play before the gods.” They never had the amity that most families do. Even so, Somax feels a connection with this King despite the tremendous gap in social status “since he too was a father.” Here again the effort to try and separate the gods from humanity is apparent. Familial relationships create an understanding and appreciation that transcends all class lines and divisions. In addition Somax seems to break from the typical trend of self-importance that often accompanies grief. Often times those who experience loss feel frustrated that the world doesn’t stop in recognition of their grief. Somax, despite having suffered such devastating losses, retains his stoical attitude as he tells Priam “We go on, for all our losses.” He seems almost consoled that the world continues on as if nothing had transpired. He seems comforted by the fact “the sun comes up again.” Ransom hinges on death and the inability of its characters to deal with the grief they experience. Achilles defiles Hector’s body, slaughters animals, and throws himself into a frenzy as he thinks about his loss yet his unbridled pain at the death of Patroclus remains unfulfilled. Meanwhile Priam, in accordance to what is proper, mourns the loss of his son without fully knowing why he is doing so. He cannot truly grieve because of the suppressed natural emotions that his kingship comes with. These perverse emotional responses are tempered by the introduction of Somax who seems to be the only one who knows the mystery behind dealing with grief. His character bridges the emotional transition that both Achilles and Priam go through to break the stalemate that prevents them from accepting their grief. Priam’s appeal to his role as a father is made easier by Somax’s story and attitude toward life. Their journey together allows a king to make the sobering metamorphosis from royalty to a mere mortal. He leaves his throne both literally and metaphorically and implores Achilles to sympathize with him from “one poor mortal to another.” In Ransom, Somax is used as a tool to tell the reader that ultimately, after the ornaments, pride and glory are stripped away, all men are children of the gods; part of a common humanity. At the same time Malouf’s new character allows him to assert modern ideas of love and the relationship between father and son. Using the voice of a grieving carter, he emphasizes the role of relationships and love in making all of humanity equal and the emptiness of tradition and accepted.

Works Cited
1. Malouf, David. Ransom. New York: Pantheon Books, 2009. Print.

[ 1 ]. Malouf, David. Ransom. New York: Pantheon Books, 2009. Print. Pg 110.
[ 2 ]. Ibid. pg 97.
[ 3 ]. Ibid. pg 140.
[ 4 ]. Ibid. pg 140.
[ 5 ]. Ibid. pg 136.
[ 6 ]. Ibid. pg 113.
[ 7 ]. Ibid. pg 131.
[ 8 ]. Ibid. pg 135
[ 9 ]. Ibid. pg 182

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