AOS1 Unit 4, Year 12 English: Comparative Texts: Ransom & Invictus
Both Ransom and Invictus focus on men who have become leaders in difficult times and who have sacrificed their own personal needs for the greater good of the people whose futures depended on them. Malouf and Eastwood offer insights into the lives of notable men within the context of exploring ideas about change, inspiration, forgiveness and sacrifice for one’s society. Both texts explore issues about what it is to be a man, presenting notions of leadership, family, work and battle in politics, war and sport.
While there are similarities in the themes between characters, the purpose of each text is different. The film directed by Clint Eastwood celebrates Nelson Mandela’s remarkable determination to work with, rather than against, his former enemies as he built the new multi-racial South Africa. However, the novel written by David Malouf revisits an old story in Homer’s Illiad about individuals in times of war, thus in a sense celebrating storytelling itself. Malouf’s idea was to tell ‘untold tales’ by reimagining the heroic world of Achilles and Priam, which differs markedly from what is described in the Illiad and history books.
|Priam, name meaning ‘the price paid’||After Troy is defeated by Heracles, he offers the young, six-year old Podarces as a gift to Hesione, Podarces’ sister and he becomes “the price paid, the gift given to buy your brother back from the dead”. Thereafter, Priam remembers the ransom, the “price paid”, as one that is humiliating and degrading. Heracles changes Podarces’ name (to Priam) “so that each time he hears himself named, this is what he will recall.”|
|Somax||Somax is representative of the ‘common man’ in Ransom. He is chosen to escort Priam to Achilles. His simple and plain presence is contrasted with Priam’s royal status.|
|ransom||In Priam’s case, the ransom, or fee paid to Achilles consists of a cartload of precious booty.
Symbolically, too, the ransom is also the “fee paid in advance” for life as Priam immerses himself in a personal journey for meaning. This dual symbolism captures many of Malouf’s central concerns.
In addition, the act of ransom also functions as a structuring device as Malouf sets up important contrasts between Priam’s ransom and other traditional forms of ransoms that are embedded in the text.
|Hector’s body||Sporting Achilles’ personal armour, Patroclus is struck down by Prince Hector, son of Trojan King Priam. Achilles slays Hector in revenge, and, barbarically destroys Hector’s body which he drags through the dust. His body symbolises how revenge is not the answer to any battle, since dealing with a tragic loss through revenge does not gain anything, but only more pain and suffering.|
|Jove’s eagle||Jove’s eagle is a representation of the eagle, a bird renowned for its keen sight. The presence of Jove’s eagle during Priam and Somax’s departure hints that the gods will safely guide their journey as the bird behaves as a lookout. Furthermore, the symbol of the eagle’s powerful vision is contrasted with Priam’s ‘blindness’ at the beginning of the journey since he is yet to experience the outside world. It is during the journey that he learns about himself and others, and thus improving his ‘sight.’|
|cart||Somax ‘common work cart’ depicts his determination for a simple approach to Achilles. This simplicity highlights Priam’s desire to become just another man and father, anonymous in the plain cart with the hopes of retrieving Hector. The common cart is directly the opposite to Priam’s royal cart used to alert others that royalty was present.|
|Griddle cakes||The cakes Somax brings along during the journey highlight Priam’s lack of knowledge of even the simplest things. For Somax, the little griddlecakes are a regular and delectable snack, yet Priam ‘ha[s] never seen them before.’ Priam’s unfamiliarity with the cakes represents his isolation from the ‘real world’ since he has been deprived from things that even commoners view as ordinary.|
|Somax sniffing (sadness)||Priam thinks it an ‘odd habit’ to describe Somax’s sadness demonstrates how Priam has never truly felt the loss of his sons. On the return journey with Hector’s body Priam is transformed from someone who failed to empathise with Somax’s tears at the beginning to a man filled with emotions demonstrates that Priam undergoes both a physical and metaphysical journey of self-development & appreciation of the world.
|The apartheid-era flag of South Africa||The apartheid flag symbolic of Afrikaner white elite rule is flown in protest against Mandela when he is released from prison and at earlier rugby match by white Afrikaners who considered him a terrorist and were afraid of the challenge to its authority.|
|Springbok supporters||Springbok white supporters refuse to applaud Mandela instead jeering his arrival. It shows the division in society and their prevailing beliefs, history & culture.|
|The rainbow flag of South Africa||The rainbow flag of 6 colours adopted in 1994 signifies unity and inclusion along with the Springbok flag.|
|Springbok flags / Springbok cap / Springbok jersey||Springbok flag initially represented white Afrikaners rule that played rugby in schools only white children attended. Once the Springbok team was accepted by black South Africans it represented unification at least in terms of sport.
Nelson Mandela accepts a Springbok cap wearing it and the Springbok jersey with pride signifying acceptance and belonging a meaningful message to many of the white players who were opposed to his presidency.
The gesture is mirrored when Sipho accepts a cap from the policemen outside Ellis Park Stadium and holds the cap to his heart in a gesture of acceptance.
|Mandela’s clothes||When Mandela is released from prison he wears professional suits but then he starts to wear colourful silk shirts depicting indigenous flora and fauna. His rejection of suits is against the former white administration who wore formal suits and he acknowledges his cultural heritage.|
|Toi Toi dance||The police and Sipho dance the toi toi together when the Springboks win the Rugby World Cup. The political war dance usually reserved for native South Africans in townships suggests that the antagonistic gulf between them is closing.|
|‘Invictus’ the poem||The poem ‘Invictus’ by William Ernest Henley was read by Mandela while in prison and gave him strength to remain undefeated. Mandela gives Pienaar a handwritten copy of Invictus endorsing his leadership in trying to create unity, heal his country and bridge the racial divide.|
|Afrikaners language||For 27 years while in prison Mandela studied the Afrikaners language so that when he became President he wanted to have an understanding of the white elite and find ways to include all South Africans together|
|Nkosi Sikelel iAfrica||Nkosi Sikelel iAfrica is the new national anthem that Pienaar wants his rugby team to learn. The players are reluctant to learn the anthem as they are products of the apartheid era and tradition is hard to forget. Pienaar uses inclusive language to coax his team to embrace the fact that they are all one country with 43 million South Africans supporting the Springboks.|