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The process of overcoming different challenges faced in a journey has the potential to transform an individual’s identity and morality. Peter Skrzynecki’s ‘Crossing the Red Sea’ (1975) recounts the journey taken by the refuges from the horrors of World War II to convey their change in identity upon surpassing the challenges of liberation. On the other hand, Margaret Atwood’s ‘Journey to the Interior’ (1965) outlines the persona’s journey across the metaphysical world to delve into the moral transformation upon overcoming the imagination. Comparatively, Kate Grenville’s ‘The Secret River’ (2005) stresses both of these ideas through the protagonist’s journey of colonization, where the obstacles faced through settling are able to evoke reformation in both identity and morality.
Skrzynecki’s ‘Crossing the Red Sea’, outlines how by overcoming past sacrifices, an individual is able to transform their identity. The poem is a powerful biblical allusion to Exodus, where the Victims of World War II are presented with many traumatic hardships during their journey to seek refuge. The outset of the journey is shown through the retrospective tone in ‘many slept on deck, because of the day’s heat, or to watch a sunset they would never see again’, which demonstrates that the persona is about to leave his former life behind. The personification of the memories in ‘memories strayed from behind sunken eyes’, reveals to the audience the persona is unable to escape the thoughts of past sacrifices. However, Skrzynecki ultimately highlights to readers that by overcoming such memories and by leaving the past behind, an individual is able to change their identity. The personification of the ‘sea’ in ‘All night, the kindness of the sea continued – breaking into walled-up griefs that men had sworn would never be disclosed’ effectively emphazises that the persona is overcoming his past to become someone new. This successfully outlines to the audience that leaving behind an individual’s past has the potential to transform an individual’s identity.
Correspondingly, Grenville’s ‘The Secret River’ reveals how by conquering the initial hardships faced in a journey of settlement, an individual is able to acquire a new physical identity. Much like ‘Crossing the Red Sea’, in Thornhill’s journey of settling in Australia, the ability to forsake the past and adapt to a new landscape is the catalyst to his transformation. The vulnerability of settling on a foreign land is explored by the visual imagery in ‘a sun as he had not imagined could exist was burning through the thin stuff of his slops’, which reveals the protagonist’s unfamiliarity with the present landscape. The metaphor in ‘This was a prison whose bars were ten thousand miles of water’, impresses upon us the impossibility of escaping the environment, indicating the need of change in conquering a contemporary landscape. This necessary adaptation is shown by the juxtaposition between ‘London’ and ‘Outsider’ in ‘if they were to go to London, they would be outsiders, with their sunburnt skin and their colonial ways’, demonstrating that by overcoming his initial vulnerability, Thornhill is able attain a new physical identity. Through this, Grenville successfully highlights to the audience the need of overcoming contemporary challenges, in order for an individual to physically transform.
Atwood’s ‘Journey to the Interior’ indicates that by overcoming the imagination, an individual is able to transform their moral approach to the meaning of life. By traversing through the metaphysical world, the persona is able to conquer her imagination, allowing for the re-evaluation of her life. The abstract imagery in the opening stanza ‘swamp’, ‘cliff’ and ‘trees’ demonstrates that the persona’s mind is immediately confused in the imagination. The visual imagery in ‘I move surrounded by a tangle of branches, a net of air and alternate light and dark, at all times; that there are no destinations apart from this’ reveals that the she is trying to escape this confusion and find her way out. However, as the persona continues the journey, Atwood reveals that it is ultimately the rediscovery of the tangible world that may transform our moral perceptions on life. The parenthetical enjambment of ‘have i been working in circles again’ denotes that the persona is starting the question the destination, which is finally reached in the high modality retrospection of ‘Whatever I do I must keep my head’, demonstrating her realisation of the enticing nature of the imagination. Through this, Atwood effectively highlights to the audience that by overcoming the imagination, an individual is able to reshape their value of life, however futile imaginative journeys may make them seem
On a different note, in ‘The Secret River’, Grenville shows how by overcoming typical perspectives of racial segregation, an individual is able to transform their moral approach to others. In the colonization of Australia, Thornhill challenges to approach to typical Western values of indigenous extermination, allowing him to morally shape a relationship with them. Thornhill’s initial disapproval of the ‘blacks’ upon his first encounter is demonstrated by the simile in ‘They were like the snakes or the spiders, not something that could be guarded against’, where the high modality tone is symbolic to the outset of their racial differences. However, similar to ‘Journey to the Interior’, Grenville indicates to the audience that by overcoming such hardships, an individual is able to transform their morality. Thornhill’s understanding of the indigenous Australians is demonstrated by the repetition of ‘when you take a little, always remember to give a little’ by one of his many influences, Blackwood, to effectively symbolize his slow moral understanding of treating the Aboriginals. This understanding is reinforced through the protagonist’s high modality tone in ‘In spite of everything, it seemed like the blacks weren’t going to disappear’, demonstrating his final realization that the ‘Blacks’ had a morally right place in his life. Through this, Grenville effectively serves as a powerful reminder to us that by overcoming typical views on racial segregation will an individual morally transform their relationship with others.
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