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Man and the Environment in David Malouf’s Novel, An Imaginary Life

In David Malouf’s novel An Imaginary Life, one of the most prevalent influences on the characters’ lives is the particular environment in which they are placed. Malouf explores the issues of the interrelationship between man and his natural environment, and the impact that changes in environment have on human personality. Through the characterisation of Ovid and the Boy, the effects of setting and physical surroundings are fully explored, and consequently issues such as isolation, conformity to society and the development of culture, including education and language, are discussed.

The main character, Ovid, is a vivid example of how lives can be periodically changed according to alterations in the surrounding environment. At the start of the book Ovid is a stranger to his setting, stranded in a culture that deprives him of his language, his customs, and his pride. This shows that identity is primarily constructed according to the society in which people are placed, and much social learning and norms are derived from conformity to the conditions of a particular environment. In An Imaginary Life, Ovid completes a journey of self discovery, learning how to create and cultivate an existence based on interrelationship with the natural world, entering a into partly idealistic and imaginary existence, hence the title.

There are consistent parallels created through descriptions of Ovid’s political status. Due to his ostracism, he is separated both from outside elements of society and ideals that exist in his own mind. In the opening paragraphs, Ovid describes his natural surroundings and the characteristics of the landscape, and ends with the statement:

But I am describing a state of mind, no place.

I am in exile here….

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…h the natural environment, utilizing the ageless and continuous attributes of the natural environment. This ideal is fulfilled in the last section of the novel, where both Ovid and the Boy are repeatedly described as being ‘there’, showing the ability of the natural environment to provide unity and irrelevance of human constraints.

The novel An Imaginary Life is a poignant profile of the relationship between man and his environment. Malouf’s main interest in self is in its capacity for transformation, and the process which the change involves, ‘the beings we are in process of becoming.’ Through the characterisation of Ovid and the Boy, various issues and themes associated with both the social and natural environments are explored, as each of them undertakes a journey of transformation which ultimately draws them closer to the natural elements of the earth.

Essay on Multiple Voices in Morrison’s Song of Solomon

The Significance of Multiple Voices in Morrison’s Song of Solomon

Of the various manifestations of voice that participate in the interplay of voices in Song of Solomon, I would like to name three – the narrative voice, the signifying voice, and the responsive voice – each of which is dialogized within itself and in relation to the others.

In the opening scene of the novel, the third-person omniscient narrative voice [emphasis added] informs us that at the time of day that Mr. Smith plans to fly from the roof of Mercy Hospital, “word-of-mouth news just lumbered along” (3). This phrase not only encodes the black vernacular but also immediately directs the reader’s attention to the cultural, communicative process by which the community structures itself. Interestingly, the phrase appears in the second sentence after Mr. Smith’s note about his planned flight appears in the text. Thus, it abruptly shifts the reader’s attention from the spectacle of Mr. Smith to the linguistic community of which he is a part. For this community, word of mouth is both a mode of communication and a category of knowledge upon which its members depend. The phrase also stands in contrast to the written word of Mr. Smith’s note and therefore, paradoxically, points to his announcement as a suspension of the normative, just as the description of the community that follows the phrase suspends the reader, along with the curious crowd of onlookers. On the one hand, the narrative voice contextualizes the act of an individual with the attendant communal response; on the other hand, it concurrently informs the reader and abdicates any totalizing ability to do so. Perhaps more importantly, however, in the litany of information about how the bl…

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…significance to the listener.

By paying attention to how identity is constructed dialogically rather than monologically, the reader hears and celebrates the voices that Toni Morrison both directly and indirectly enacts in the text. But this process also enables the reader to critique those cultural hegemonic forces that have silenced some voices in the first place. A dialogic reading not only encourages the reader to relinquish interpretations which reduce the African American community to a monologic, manageable entity but discourages the reader from coming to closure too easily.

Works Cited

Marilyn Sanders Mobley, “Call and Response: Voice, Community and Dialogic Structures in Toni Morrison’s Song of Solomon,” in Toni Morrison’s Song of Solomon,” in New Essays on Song of Solomon, ed. Valerie Smith, Cambridge University Press 1995, 41-68.


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