Dr Mark’s The Meaning in a Nutshell

David Malouf, Ransom (2009)

David Malouf’s Ransom (2009) is a postmodern reworking and reimagining of an episode in the classic collection of stories on the Trojan War,
Homer’s Iliad.  Malouf’s book is both about the nature of storytelling as well as being a contribution to literature in its own right, raising issues about how latent meanings in texts can be brought to the fore or how classic texts can be reinterpreted for new generations and audiences.  He also notes how stories change in the telling; therefore implying that determining their truth is problematic.  Nevertheless, Malouf maintains an appreciation of the importance of storytelling as central to culture and human existence. 

Malouf wrote an account of the Trojan King Priam’s expedition to see his Greek enemy Achilles.  Priam sought to pay a ransom for the body of his slain son Hector, killed by Achilles in vengeful combat.  This episode provided Malouf a platform to express his pacifist views about how a new kind of courage is to be found in breaking social conventions and showing humility.  It involves seeking to connect with your enemy’s common humanity and capacity for empathy and compassion. 

Malouf also seeks to promote egalitarianism by depicting the wealthy and powerful as constrained by their social roles that prevent them from appreciating and fully enjoying their humanity through engaging in the simple pleasures of life.  Priam, as a king, learns about what is important in life and the secret to the good life from a humble working-class man, Somax, who appreciates nature, is generous and forgiving, and has the strength to endure the hardships and grief that life can deliver. 

The meaningful encounters of the characters take place in a world characterised by Malouf in terms of existentialist philosophical concepts about the unpredictability of life due to the pervasiveness of chance.  This framework also invites one to value life and appreciate the need for individuals to define their own identity and existence.  Malouf also situates humanity and all its behaviours and actions in an environmentalist appreciation of the all-encompassing cycle of life, which cannot be escaped either by the grand and heroic or the meek and humble.  

Student resources by Dr Mark Lopez

© Mark Lopez 2019 All RIGHTS RESERVED

The purpose of the concise notes of Dr Mark’s The Meaning in a Nutshell is to provide much needed help to students seeking to unlock the meaning of the texts with which they have to deal.  (More elaborate notes are provided in lessons as part of my private tutoring business.) 

Subject: Ransom meaning, Ransom themes, Ransom analysis, Ransom notes