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Textual Representation of Themes Relating to Freedom in Ransom and "the Eldest Princess"

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Examine the textual representation of themes relating to freedom and what are the implications of the representation for narrative meaning?

Themes of freedom create narrative meaning in Ransom and ‘The Eldest Princess’ by serving as a catalyst for the characters of Priam and the Princess to step outside the plot of their own stories in order to rewrite their roles. Through the stories’ use of intertextuality, narrative, characterisation, discourse and focalisation, the reader is invited to consider what freedom is, and how it is linked to identity.

In order to understand and create meaning in a literary work, the reader must follow the threads between the texts and all other texts “to which it refers and relates” (Allen 1). This concept of intertextuality is fundamental to both Ransom and ‘The Eldest Princess’, where the texts take the reader on a journey to explore new angles of well-known stories. It is through the stories’ intertextual foundations that the theme of freedom is thus firstly introduced, as the reader arrives at the texts with a set of preconceived expectations which both define and limit the roles the characters are to play. However, just as the reader recognises the roles Priam and the Princess are to play, so too are the characters aware they have been cast to satisfy the plot of their own stories. This recognition acts as a catalyst for Priam and the Princess to step outside their own narratives in order to construct new identities; Priam as a father rather than a king, and the Princess as something more than the doomed heroine in a plot which favours the third sibling. By prompting the characters to step outside the plot of their own stories, the concept of freedom invites the reader to explore what identity means, and to consider the extent to which we are controlled by the roles we assume.

Themes of freedom and identity are further linked by the narrative structure surrounding the introductions of the characters of Priam and The Eldest Princess. Priam’s search for identity begins as focalisation shifts from Achilles to “another man” (Malouf 40). Priam is not immediately named, but merely described; a king ravaged not only by the death of his son, but also the threat to his kingdom. He lays abed, helpless, sleepless, “proper to his grief” (Malouf 40). Through the discourse of Priam’s thoughts, we learn of his awareness of his role; “obliged, in his role of king, to think of     the king’s sacred body”, and that he is controlled by that role; “at once a body like any other and an abstract of the lands he represents” (Malouf  43). Priam is equally aware of his role in a well-known story; “Imagine then, what it was like to be that child. To actually stand as I did at the centre of it, of what was not a story, not yet, but a real happening” (Malouf 64), and has long anguished over the secret of his name - that it was not his to begin with but was bestowed upon him by a conquering soldier. This story-within-a-story reinforces Holland’s theory that “interpretation is a function of identity” (Holland 816), as Priam’s reading of his own story reveals him not as a man trapped in a role; he is the role. He is denied freedom; “to be seen as a man like other men - human as we are, all of us - would have suggested that I was impertinent and weak” (Malouf 53).

Similarly, the introduction to the eldest Princess, who is known by a role rather than a name, reveals her awareness of the relationship between freedom and identity. She is conscious of having been cast into a role, and that she is playing a part in a traditional narrative that dictates there are three siblings and the third will triumph where the other two have failed; “I am in a pattern, I know, and I suspect I have no power to break it” (Byatt 187). However, rather than relying on the typically patriarchal focus of a fairytale narrative, the Princess instead analyses her situation and is able to determine why her predecessors failed. The Princess’s struggle to free herself from the confines of her story offers the reader a feminine perspective of freedom and identity, as the Princess’s actions subvert the plot that dooms her to failure.

Further concepts revealed by themes of freedom are the notions of free will and chance. Priam’s first steps away from his identity of king are triggered by the dream vision of the Goddess Isis, when she suggests that his story is not already written and is perhaps alterable. Priam appears both confused and excited by this; “Chance? Bewildered but also strangely excited…” (Malouf 47), as he has always believed that his fate was predetermined, and the gods had set him up only to watch him fall, as “all along they intended” (Malouf 45). Isis denies this, reiterating the concept of chance; “not a mockery… but the way things are. Not the way they must be, but the way they have turned out. In a world that is also subject to chance” (Malouf 45). Priam grasps at the notion that his fate is not predetermined as he had believed. However, he also recognises the inherent danger of stepping away from our assumed roles; “Mightn’t it be time for me to expose myself at last to what is merely human? To learn a little of what that might be, and what it is to bear it as others do?” (Malouf 85). Priam understands that the freedom to create your own fate equates with assuming responsibility for your actions.

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