Journey As Metaphor in Literature
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Metaphor is most frequently employed as a literary device in which a word or phrase that ordinarily designates one article is used to designate another, thus making an implicit comparison. Journey serves as an effective metaphor because it can accurately portray many concepts from all walks of life without becoming vague. This feat is accomplished by utilizing the inherent characteristics of the word "journey" itself, as a journey can be representative of a process, physical travel, or any undertaking involving a goal. In Ariel Dorfman's Heading South, Looking North, Michael Radford's Il Postino, and Pablo Neruda's "Walking Around", the metaphor of journey manifests both as a process that the protagonists experience, and as an objective that they strive to reach. All three works under discussion have the process taking the form of physical travel, while the goal becomes discovering one's true identity. These two interpretations of journey as a metaphor are inherently intertwined, and through careful analysis, we will see how these associations are represented throughout these works.
Ariel Dorfman's Heading South, Looking North perhaps best illustrates the concept of a journey being both a process and a goal. Dorfman's travels are a focal point of the autobiography, but the travel of Dorfman's parents becomes important in developing the different facets of Dorfman's identity search. The ties between Dorfman's soul-searching and his travel begin, strangely, before his own birth. The story begins at the opening of the twentieth century, when Dorman's parents had to flee Europe; his father leaving Odessa and his mother leaving Russia. They each end up in Argentina, where they met in the language common to both bilinguals Spanish. In essence, the crafting of Dorfman's identity begins there, as he was "conceived in Spanish, literally imagined into being by that language " (Heading South, 14). This allows us to observe how the travels of Dorfman's parents are directly causal to two central pieces of Dorfman's identity: his name, Vladimiro, and his language, Spanish (for the time being). The name "Vladimiro" is an important part of Dorfman's identity because it is born from his father's learned values and experiences. In essence, Dorfman inherits the product of his father's own inner journey that included a fascination with Vladimir Ilyich Lenin and the Bolshevik Revolution. This is only the beginning of Dorfman's metaphorical and physical journeys, as throughout the course of the book, Dorman encounters new ideals which shift his goals considerably; most often, it is travel which causes this reorientation.
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The physical journeys that Dorfman embarks on are directly linked with his inner search for his own identity. The passage that best serves to illustrate the connection between the physical and inner journeys that Dorfman takes reads:
I had decided not to go back North. It was time to take all the simultaneous roads into Latin America I could find or perhaps it was Latin America, during that frantic decade, taking the roads into me, invading me, penetrating me, saturating my senses, filling me with people, with landscapes, with foods, with colors, with projects, a jumble of interrogations. I set out to explore the space and the people around me with a fury enhanced by the awareness of all the energy I had wasted purging my Spanish and turning my back on my Latino self. (Heading South, 162)
Dorfman appears to be in constant transition, whether it is through his many trips between The United States and Chile, or between English-style boarding schools and college universities. In this passage, Dorfman expresses feelings indicating that he is anxious to take root in a country with which he fully identifies. Each trip that he physically takes corresponds to some internal transition as well. In the case described by the preceding passage, it is Dorfman's return to Latin America that causes him to look inward and question his own identity. The section of the passage that reads "It was time to take all the simultaneous roads into Latin America I could find or perhaps it was Latin America, during that frantic decade, taking the roads into me " shows how both physical and self-exploring journeys occur are interrelated, although we know that in Dorfman's case, it is most often the physical journey which spurs the start of his internal struggles. The way Dorfman describes Latin America as "invading" and "penetrating" him with its roads, serves to further demonstrate how the environment around him affects his identity search. This fact is in sharp contrast to the type of physical journey portrayed in Michael Radford's Il Postino, as Mario's identity search does not take him further than the boundaries of his hometown.
Il Postino is another story in which the protagonist is searching for his own identity. Mario's journey is primarily of the internal variety, as his physical journey only takes him as far as Pablo Neruda's residence within the boarders of his own town. Mario's trips back and forth to Neruda's house illustrate his metaphorical journeys in search of his own identity. Mario's travels become important more for the reasons that he makes them, rather than for their geographical significance. Since Mario is on a mission to discover himself, he seeks Neruda's input on most of the new things that occur in his life, and is also very impressionable while in Neruda's presence. Mario takes Neruda's advice as infallible, and seems to try to build his new character around attributes that he feels Neruda possesses and respects; for instance, expressiveness and political idealism. Mario's development can be most clearly observed through the changes in his social interaction. In the initial scenes of the film, Mario can hardly form coherent sentences. However, after his relationship with Neruda has developed, Mario can hardly be recognized by viewers in the way that he speaks, especially to Beatrice. At their first meeting, Mario is captivated into a dumb silence and barely manages to ask the woman for her name. After a few journeys back and forth to consult Neruda, however, Mario is soon wooing Beatrice with poetry (some his own, some stolen), and telling her that "her smile spreads like a butterfly." In this instance, it was Mario's infatuation with Beatrice that caused him to make his physical journey to confer with Neruda.
Mario's journey to discover his own identity leads him to totally assimilate Neruda's beliefs and way of thinking however, this parroting is more out of Mario's love for the poet than for shared ideologies. Mario has lived in the same city for years, but only begins to notice the surrounding beauty of his homeland after Neruda's influence has transformed him. An important scene in the film shows Mario recording the sounds of the ocean, the wind in the leaves and the other "beautiful things in Italy" for Neruda. It is clear that from this scene that because of his internal journey of self-discovery, Mario begins to view his physical surroundings in a much different manner. This provides an extremely interesting contrast between Il Postino and Heading South, Looking North, because while Dorfman's geographical journeys aid him in his internal journey to discover his identity, Mario's character transformation allows him to discover and appreciate new things in his physical geography. This further illustrates the connection between the two types of journeys in question.
"Walking Around" illustrates journey as a metaphor, but in an entirely different manner than the two works previously discussed. Journey as a process is all but non-existent in this poem, as can be somewhat inferred by its title. The travel involved in "Walking Around" greatly departs from the intercontinental journeys of Dorfman, or even Mario's uphill bike ride. The pace of this poem is tired and meandering, which serves to parallel the feelings of the narrator. Where this poem differs most from the other two works is in regards to the destination or goal of the described journey. The goal that is sought after in Heading South, Looking North and in Il Postino is replaced in whole in "Walking Around" by an entirely different breed of journey a routine. When Neruda writes " feeling wizened and numbed, like a big, wooly swan, awash on an ocean of clinkers and causes" (Walking Around, lines 3-4), the terrible fatigue and numbness becomes very tangible to us as readers. A "clinker" by definition, is a non-combustible, non-descript lump, which may indicate that the narrator no longer harbors a "spark" for life, further supported by the line that reads "Being a man leaves me cold: that's how it is" (Walking Around, line 12). Even the identity search is different in this poem; it seems as though the narrator knows who he is, but is simply tired of being himself; or any man for that matter. This work strays from the other two in that character development and identity struggle is seemingly replaced with the stagnancy of the narrator's own self-image.
In these three works, journey as a metaphor is represented in a number of different ways. In both Heading South, Looking North and Il Postino, travel plays a central role to the protagonist's self-exploration. However, in "Walking Around," the idea of changing locations is not emphasized, as the narrator expresses his disgust with traveling anywhere as a man. The idea of internal journey, however, is portrayed in all three works, with the main character of each work making an inward journey in order to clear up some identity issues. However different, all three works in discussion allow us to observe journey as a metaphor, effectively drawing parallels between seemingly diverse concepts and storylines.
The journey is as important as the destination. Discuss.
The journey may offer life-changing experiences, but it is ultimately the destination that motivates the traveller to overcome obstacles and achieve their goals, making both equally important. Such physical journeys involve the exploration of new and challenging environments, equipping the traveller with fresh experiences, perspectives and insights of the world around them. Through a variety of written and visual techniques, these notions are explored in Peter Skrzynecki’s poems Crossing the Red Sea and Migrant Hostel, Mel Gibson’s film Apocalypto, and Dr. Seuss’ picture book I Had Trouble in Getting to Solla Sollew. The process of the journey is portrayed through phases of movement and standstills, allowing the traveller to reflect on the impact of the trip.
Journeys can be driven by aims of escaping to a better place, but the process itself is just as significant as it shapes the outlook of the traveller. In Crossing the Red Sea, the journey of the migrants from war-torn Europe is ironically also a standstill on the boat, forcing them to contemplate their past and present circumstances. The voyage itself is a source of alleviation from emotional seclusion, as shown in the metaphors “Voices left their caves | Silence fell from its shackles,” creating a tentative mood of hope and showing how the migrants are emotionally opening up. This sense of optimism is reinforced in the Biblical allusion to resurrection in “Another Lazarus…who was saying a prayer in thanksgiving,” conveying the migrants’ hope and gratitude for a new start. Negatively, however, the migrants’ ‘limbo-like’ status is highlighted by the metaphor of “patches and shreds | of dialogue,” creating a pessimistic tone which augments the sense of lost identity. Furthermore, the personification of nature in “pine tress whispering against a stone wall”, also a symbol of the migrant’s European heritage, creates a pensive, homesick mood. Despite this, the metaphor of “a blood-rimmed horizon,” generates an atmosphere of uncertainty and foreshadowing beckons the migrants to move on from their old lives. Clearly, the destination is integral to the migrants’ dreams of a new beginning, but the journey itself facilitates a hopeful change in their outlook that is equally important.
Similar to Crossing the Red Sea,Apocalypto portrays a forced exodus during a period of massive change and upheaval, during the decline of the Mayan Empire, in which “Jaguar Paw”, a hunter and the son of a tribal chief, strives to escape from ruthless kidnappers and reunite with his family and native jungle. This journey is initially centred on surviving and reaching home, but extends into the rediscovery of his native jungle and identity as a hunter. The shadowy, flickering lighting from the bonfire the night before his capture creates an ominous, uncertain atmosphere and foreshadows the violent upheaval of his life and identity. The shaky trailing camera when Jaguar Paw is escapes and runs from his kidnappers creates an atmosphere of helplessness and bewilderment, showing how ironically ‘the hunter has become the hunted’. However, this powerlessness is broken when Jaguar Paw narrowly escapes drowning in a mud pool and his artificial blue body paint washed off by a rich mud, conveying his physical and spiritual reconnection with his native lands. This enhanced grasp of his identity is evident in the dialogue he shouts to his pursuers, “I am Jaguar Paw! I am a hunter! This is my forest!” hence reaffirming his mood of confidence and control. The lingering, panning shot of Jaguar Paw and his reunited wife and son rejecting both the Mayans and Spanish by disappearing into the dense jungle emphasises his regained sense of freedom and self-determination. Hence, the Jaguar Paw’s home and homecoming are equally important, as he realises that only a free life as a hunter, connected with the primal forces of nature, is suitable for him.
While Crossing the Red Sea and Apocalypto present journeys in phases of movement, Migrant Hostel depicts one in a standstill, allowing the migrants to reflect on the process of the journey and their impressions of the destination, making them both important. Immediately apparent is that journeys often involve prolonged hardship and bring out the darker side of human nature, instead of being solely positive experiences. The assonance in “coming and goings” suggests the migrants have little grasp of the passage of time and creates a mood of disorientation, highlighting the overall dark tone of the poem. This concept of disorientation is sustained by the simile of “like a homing pigeon | Circling to get its bearings”, conveying the lack of permanence and prolonged nature of the migrants’ journey. The obstacles of the journey are not merely physical, but social as well, as evident in mainstream Australia’s rejection and disdain of the migrants. Skrzynecki highlights this air of hostility through the metaphor of the “barrier at the main gate | Sealed off the highway,” symbolising the isolation and neglect of the migrants. The use of the euphemism ‘Migrant Hostel’ to describe the harsh detention centre creates a sense of irony, reflecting a bitter and disillusioned tone from the author. The alliteration in “partitioned off…by memories of hunger and hate” highlights the pessimistic and inward shift in the migrants’ outlook by shunning citizens from enemy nations in WWII. Clearly, though the standstill of the journey in the hostel has been rather dark and cruel, it has hardened and acclimatised the worldviews of the migrants towards inevitable hardships, showing how the journey is important for dealing with the destination.
The persona in the picture book I Had Trouble in Getting to Solla Sollew, like the migrants in Migrant Hostel, is disillusioned by the journey to the increasingly out-of-reach paradise of Solla Sollew. However, he gains a broadened understanding of life and himself, hence rendering the journey just as important as the original destination that motivated it. The idiosyncratic dialogue “Solla Sollew, where they never have troubles. Or at least very few,” is repeated by everyone the persona meets, giving the first hints that the destination is more of a Utopian idealisation than reality. His vacant facial expressions and body language is gradually dispelled as the journey goes on, reflecting a change in his naïve and unquestioning worldview. Throughout the picture book, the persona is peripherally placed off-centre, suggesting that he has not found any balance in his life or his place in the world. Only when he decides to deal with his problems instead of running away from them do the pictures start centring on him, reflecting his enhanced control over his own destiny. The exaggeratedly large club he wields in striking position is a symbol for the newfound confidence the journey has equipped him with, reflecting his hopeful mood for the future. Hence, the destination may have been of utmost importance at the outset, but when it becomes unreachable, the journey itself becomes just as significant because it teaches the persona about life and reality.
In conclusion, each of the mentioned texts has life-changing implications for their respective travellers, not only as a result of reaching the destination, but also the journey itself. While the destination provides the motivation at the outset of the journey, the process is equally important as it facilitates new experiences, perspectives and insights as a result of reflection and introspection by the traveller.
Dave – 2006
Another one of Dave’s finest essays. See my comments for Dave’s Module A Essay. To surmise: Excellent use of diction, sophisticated use of T.E.EM, impeccable structure, succinct attack of question. Epitome of HSC Response, received perfect 15/15.