'Enemies, like friends, told you who you were.' To what extent is Jim's understanding of self enhanced by his contact with those around him?' Fly Away Peter' is essentially a story about life. Through the life of Jim Saddler the reader becomes aware of the ideas posed by the author, David Mal ouf. Jim's life, if anything, is indeed a journey, unfolding through various broadening experiences that lead to Jim's eventual understanding of the world and his own self. However, to simply say that this understanding is enhanced solely by his contact with those around him is only true to a certain extent. Jim's journey of life exists on many levels, just one of which is the lessons he learns through his contact with others. A strong note emphasised throughout the novel is Jim's detachment.
During the establishment of his relationship with Ashley, and his decision to join the war, 'Jim existed in a world of his own, not withdrawn exactly, but impenetrably private'. Ever the lone wolf, Jim keeps the events in his life at arm's length, remaining distant and observing his world in his own unique way. The retiring, introspective Jim notes he has no close friends, though calling Clancy a 'mate'. Even the horrors of war fail to make Jim see the world as others do. He admits his naivety, confessing that " he had been living, till he came here, in a state of dangerous innocence'. Jim acknowledges how his new experiences have indeed opened his eyes to the real world, but as yet he has not reached his eventual understanding of self.
The bond between Jim, Ashley and Imogen is founded on their mutual respect for, and love of, the bird life in the sanctuary. There is certainly no doubt that Jim and Ashley are brought together by their appreciation of nature. Ashley has 'a quiet respect for the things Jim also respected', and the reader is made aware of the bond and mutual respect each feels for the other. These three characters, despite their social differences, easily relate through the birds. Ashley provides Jim with a place in the world through the sanctuary, and Imogen helps Jim to secure his place within the sanctuary through her photographs and the book. Ashley and Imogen are certainly significant factors in Jim's journey.
They play a part in his final understanding and affirmation of self, in that they are encouraging influences upon Jim and help him to appreciate himself, however they are not the sole deciding factors in Jim's comprehension of life.' Enemies, like friends, told you who you were'. This is indeed true of Jim, who learns much about his own self through the cynical criticism of his father and the brutish bullying of Wizzer. His father, with his bitter outlook and defeatist attitude, shows Jim what he does not want to become. In his father Jim see a possible mirror that could well reflect what Jim will become if he does not hold him 'at arm's length,' to keep from being 'infected'. Through Wizzer, Jim becomes aware of his own capacity for 'black anger'. Wizzer is significant because of what he reveals to Jim of his own character.
The confrontation brings out another side to Jim. Wizzer is in fact doing him a favour in terms of personal growth, but Jim doesn't like what he sees. He admits that he does not wish 'to be confronted with some depth in himself... that frightened him and he doesn't understand'. The Wizzer experience is another exposing element on Jim's journey, a broadening experience. In this case, these people in Jim's life certainly enhance Jim's understanding of self, as they reveal to him a dark depth he may not have seen had it not been for their criticism.
However, Jim's learning experiences are not only a result of his contact with others. Ever a private person, some may well say that the larger part of his journey took place on a personal level, a realisation of his core being and a coming to terms with his place in the world. It is no one else's decision that Jim would go to war, this was not influenced by his father or anyone else. Rather, Jim acknowledges the need to extend his knowledge of life in the face of the inevitable changes war will bring. Jim felt he had to go to war, 'otherwise he would never understand...
why his life and everything he had known were so changed... and nobody would be able to tell him'. This self-admission that his quest for understanding was entirely up to him stands in contrast to the belief that his understanding of self was acheive d solely by his contact with others. Indeed, throughout the final chapters of the novel, Jim's personal journey greatly intensifies, and these last supplements are a 'coming together' of sorts, of Jim's experiences and what he has learned. Jim greatly withdraws during this period. Detached, almost 'out of himself', he observes the scene from high up, as if in a map.
Just before his death, Jim's perception of reality, and his understanding of the world and his place in it, are greatly expanded. Jim seems to perceive life in an extremely detached manner, enabling him to cope with experiences that may have crippled another man. Thus it is with Jim that his journey to an understanding of self was, to a certain extent, enhanced by his contact with those around him. However, it would perhaps be more appropriate to say that this idea is just one level of Jim's journey to understanding, and there are many more, perhaps more significant levels of Jim's journey, that do not involve others, but simply Jim and his private reflections.