Thursday, February 26, 2009

Animals as Harbingers

Characters from Albert Wendt’s Sons for the Return Home illustrate the type of alienation from one’s own homeland that Salman Rushdie discusses in his paper “Imaginary Homelands.” Wendt weaves the story in a circular fashion, not strictly chronologically, similar to the way in which the boy’s grandfather perceives the universe to operate. This emphasizes the link between past and present in the story. It also allows Wendt to intersperse accounts that foreshadow future events. In particular, the symbolism of the killing of two animals, the hawk and the boar, symbolize key events in the boy and the girl’s lives, ones that will eventually lead to them cutting ties with their homelands.

By including scenes like the slaughter of the hawk, readers are given an indication of events to come. The intense imagery of the hawk soaring across the sky, and the obvious symbolism that the boy attributes to it make it clear to a reader that the hawk is far more significant than just a bird. The boy sees the hawk as a representation of something his ancestors may have worshipped. He also sees the girl’s killing of the hawk as an example of the wasteful destruction the paheka inflicted on New Zealand “Your lily-white ancestors ate everything else that was worth anything in this fucken area”(Wendt 95).

However, beyond just the racial aspects of the symbolism, the killing of the hawk rings of her future abortion. She has the abortion as an attempt to cut ties with her own home. By removing the guilt of an unplanned pregnancy she reasons, their marriage will succeed where her parents’ failed. While the boy is afraid to contradict her, he would rather her have the baby and believes that “To kill that life would be to distort the meaning of the whole journey and love they had found for each other” (Wendt 158).

She fears to return to New Zealand partially out of fear of hurting him with her guilt. Indeed, he does carry resentment and sees the abortion as a betrayal. The abortion, like the killing of the hawk, creates a rift between them. This rift is so strong that it causes her to flee to England, leaving her own homeland.

The killing of the boar foreshadows the boy’s eventual separation from New Zealand. The boy is told many stories of Samoa, his homeland, all idealized by his parents (an example of Rushdie’s imaginary homelands). However, his only actual memory of his homeland was a ritual killing of a boar that he took part in (the final event before they depart). The scene is reminiscent of Raskolnikov’s dream in which he sees a mare beaten to death in Dostoevsky’s Crime and Punishment. Like the mare symbolized the old woman Raskolnikov would kill, the boar also represents future violence for the boy. He can see his reflection in the beast’s eye and weeps, refusing to eat the pork.

The event is recalled in the scene it foreshadows. When the boy channels all of his anger and brutalizes the man in the bathroom, he remembers the slaughter of the pig. He does not recognize who he has become “For an unbelievable moment he thought it was someone else” (Wendt 167). This last act of violence is the final event recounted before he too leaves New Zealand and finally undertakes his journey back to Samoa. Wendt allows the chronology to come full circle as acts of violence mark his departure from both of his homelands.

The circular manner of time in the stories greatly helps create lucid symbolism. These passages about animals clearly hold symbolic value and mark events that cause the characters to cut ties with each other and their homes.

Wednesday, February 25, 2009

Chandra- Tradition versus Modernity

“Cooking fires, hearth fires, hey fires, Funeral fires. Ceremonial fires. Even the firing of refuse, of things that are thrown away. Home fires and factory fires.” (72)

Vikram Chandra is an interesting author to say the least. His book, Love and Longing in Bombay, is a collection of five short stories that, although at first glance don’t seem to be related beyond the physical setting, fit together to create a panorama of life in Bombay. He blends old with new, tradition with modernity, and lastly but probably most important stylistically- Sanskrit with English. His writing style and main themes encapsulate post-colonial ideas. The short story in which many of these elements can be seen and adequately discussed is “Shakti.”

The quote above illustrates the theme of traditional Indian lifestyle coexisting with modernity. Fire is an important part of Hindu religion and life. Instead of burying the dead, Hindus believe that the body should be burned in funeral pyres. That is talked about in the quote. Also in the quote, there is reference to cooking fires as well as fires for heating. This shows that, even though Bombay is a modern city, there are still parts of it that are poor and cannot pay for electricity or heating. But the final words of the quote, “factory fires” illustrate how the traditional ways of Bombay life are living side by side with factories and modernity.

“Shakti” also illuminates the inner workings of upper Bombay social circles. “The women in the Lunch Club met once a month for lunch at one of the member’s houses. After lunch they played cards. Then they had tea and went home… but if you knew anything you knew that that was where marriages were arranged and sometimes destroyed, deals were made…” (37) Social status is an incredibly important aspect of life in Bombay. Whether it is a holdover from the caste-system or an influence of British colonization, it is clear that it is inextricably linked to everyday life and everyone, rich or poor, is concerned about improving or holding on to their status. Chandra makes this evident by devoting an entire story- “Shakti” to describing how it all worked.

A literary device that Chandra employs to give the audience and his writings more authenticity and power is the use of Sanskrit. He constantly includes singular Sanskrit nouns to describe clothing, food, or anything else that is particular to India and its customs. He even includes entire sentences or songs in Sanskrit and does not translate them so that reader does not feel like the book is a dictionary or lexicon but instead an accurate portrayal of life. “Ramani Ranjan Das wore all white, white ‘mogra’ in her hair and a white ‘garara’ suit and a silver nose ring, and she came with a director twenty years younger.” (56)

An example in our everyday life of one of Chandra’s themes- old coexisting with new- can be seen in downtown Baltimore. There are vestiges of the founding days of our country in the Inner-Harbor with the USS Constellation sitting right next to incredibly modern ships like a Coast Guard cutter. Also, just looking at the unique Baltimore skyline shows almost every single era that the city has seen. Old buildings sit side by side with new skyscrapers. Architecture is varied and illustrates what was seen as important in each of those eras, along with different influences on the city. Reading Love and Longing in Bombay and discussing those themes highlighted above have made me notice and appreciate things like this.

Debilitation from Heritage

So far, homelands have always been a precious, rare thing being lost. In a strange turn, Wendt has created a different sort of homeland, where cultural strength becomes just as much a barrier as a source of strength. The strange use of language to create closeness between the two main characters provides a bond the reader doesn’t necessarily understand but can appreciate, yet doesn’t always manage to comfort in light of their struggles.
These struggles, fights against their heritage, become increasingly indirect as the story plows onward. From their social encounters, and how people look at them, to the girl’s introduction to her parents (around pg 40), the couple seems to always fight simply to survive. But there are important pieces that hint at a greater compatibility, not just between the two, but twixt their opposing peoples.
“By loving her, he was feeling for the first time a growing and meaningful attachment to the country which had bred her” (pg. 24). With these words, the reader comes to understand the couples’ struggle, not just to get over their own cultural sets of stigmata, but also to accept a separate society that has, for each of their whole lives, been regarded as alien. Only later in the book does the man come to a realization while at a party: “The whole history of the pakeha had been cursed with this fear (of not being strong next to the other races), and the Maoris and other minority groups had to pay for it” (pg. 125) Only by gaining such understandings will the couple be able to survive public opinion of their love, let alone defend their choice.
The other stereotypes they must fight along the way, like his hyper masculine tendencies and her acceptance of them (indeed, the whole culture’s probable acceptance of them) all link back to their heritage, and only after conquering their misunderstandings of one another can they work on their other personal problems.

Intertwining Past and Present

Albert Wendt employs two interesting literary techniques in his novel, Sons for the Return Home, that add an extra level of depth and meaning to the work. One of the main techniques used in the other novels that we have read so far for class has been the inclusion of native vocabulary that illustrates the author’s intimacy with the cultures in question. Wendt breaks from this mold. He does incorporate words such as “papalagi” and “pakeha” when discussing foreigners and outsiders. It is an important choice to have made. The inclusion of the native words for “stranger” (pakeha) and “skybreaker” (papalagi) add strength to the central themes of racism, xenophobia, and stereotypes. It also allows the reader to feel closer to the characters and the clash of the cultures. The exclusion of excessive native vocabulary also lets the audience not get muddled down in remembering definitions of particular words and instead get into the flow of the story.
The two techniques that Wendt employs are, first and foremost, intermingling of the past and present. Sons for the Return Home is, in essence, a boy/man’s journey of self-discovery and the formation of a personal identity. He must do this in the face of all sorts of racism prevalent in the culture of New Zealand. The fact that Wendt incorporates flashbacks from the past in his story of the present makes the reader identify more closely with the boy. The reader must see how the pieces from that past are influencing decisions and actions in the present. Struggling to put everything together on the reader’s part mimics the struggle that the boy/man has in putting together all the bits and pieces and influences in his life that have made him who he is. The second technique is equally interesting. Wendt never gives his main protagonists names. Instead he decided to refer to the boy as just that, a boy. The same goes for the girl that he falls in love with. Because racism is faceless and relies on stereotypes, the fact that Wendt chooses not to give his characters names echoes that fact. Also, it highlights the fact that racism is not exclusive to just one or two people but instead includes the entire minority in question.

Tuesday, February 24, 2009

part 3... presentation

By analyzing Loving and Longing in Bombay, it becomes obvious that Vikram Chandra ties his stories together with the common theme of personal identity and family. Dharma focuses on the identity of the self, Jago Antia is able to find himself again and define himself through his past and the interaction with his family members. Shakti describes the bond between a family and the lengths one will go to in order to protect their offspring and attempt to ensure their happiness. Finally, Kama, describes the ties of a family through a murder investigation. Chandra utilizes the intertwining of Hindu terms within the narrative which adds to the reader’s idea of the setting as well as allows one to get a better feel for the characters. Also, Chandra uses the concept of time to increase the family ties. i.e. past, present, and future. This is extremely important and helps tie all aspects of the stories together.

Closure and Definition

We spoke in class on Monday about the role of names, and being nameless play in the identity of an individual or a representative of a group; an idea. As the reader observes the relationship between the 'boy' as and the 'girl', it becomes more and more difficult to conceive the loving bond between them. There is so much vigorous passionate sex between the two, and the pages a are simply riddled with 'I love you's'. They seem to love each other... in spite of everything about one another. The time between their sex is haunted with silences and scarred by fights.

He loves her, yet he resents her promiscuous past. He wants what he can't have, he expects her to give him something that he wouldn't give her. They have their lust, and their passion, but truth be told and she admits that she has had passion, and she has had sex before. So what does she give him? She loves him, but his distance is awful, his inability to prove his love and in a sickening sense at the scene of the party she wants him to prove his madness for her. When all is said and done, the tests each side lay for the other deteriorate their relationship instead of fostering it.

They break each other instead of breaking the barriers that separate them. They plaster their relationship with 'I love you's' to cover the silence in between their physicality. As far as identity goes, they do not understand one another as people, only as the things they see in one another. She sees race, she sees hatred, singularity, isolation, and a shattered culture and home. she most certainly grows to understand those things, but she does not understand singularity, isolation, his past, his family and most of all his fears. The same goes for him. He steps outside of himself for a time, he grows to understand and interact with white people. he learns to give, he learns to exist outside of his racial identity and presumptions and extend outward into New Zealand society, yet none of it is given to her.

They seek definition and closure form one another. They won't change, but want to be accepted into cultures and lives which they do not fit. The issues between people in a relationship are always real. Who people are define them, where they come from make them who they are and to some degree this falls into out notion of what a homeland is. Without understanding where one comes from, and how they got there how can they understand who they are? Both the boy and girl receive news about their families, about their pasts, and make realizations about who they are even late in the story before and after they split up. they try to give themselves to one another but they don't know enough about what to give.
In Wendt’s Sons for the Return Home the relationship between the boy and the pakeha girl changes the boy’s outlook on identity and homeland. As we can see from some of the scenes from his childhood, before meeting the girl at the beginning of the novel the boy was somewhat conflicted in his identity. He struggled with the feeling of being a minority and racial stereotype in New Zealand. He did not wish to assimilate into papalagi culture as he demonstrates after his parents meeting with his principle in school. The boy is proud of his Samoan heritage and says that despite his families thirteen year residence in New Zealand they still treat them as strangers and inferiors” (13). This realization, coupled with the problem of racism in New Zealand sets the boy at odds with papalagi society, and so when we are first introduced to the character we meet an angry and withdrawn boy with an “Islander” mentality.
As the relationship between the boy and the girl develops however, the boy seems to become less conflicted and angered by his identity as a Samoan. There is a direct correlation between the intensification of the couple’s love and the boy’s gradual acceptance and affection for New Zealand. “He admitted to himself that this was the happiest time he had ever spent in New Zealand” (24). After meeting the girl, the boy suddenly begins to a feel strong tie to their country. This feeling intensifies on the couple’s trip through the country when the boy who is originally unnerved by the silences of nature comes to enjoy it and identify with it. “It had somehow eased into him and made him part of it” (92). To use the language from Monday’s class, the boy’s begins to reconcile his interior identity with exterior reality. He even becomes less aggressive socially as we can see in through he friendliness with the Maori men at the bar near the girl’s lake house and the restraint he shows at not hurting the “surfie” at the papalagi party a few chapters later. That is certainly not to say that the boy’s race and Samoan heritage cease to be a problem, but he no longer feels like an outsider in the country where he has spent the majority of his life. His perception of himself seems to shift and he begins to see himself as a New Zealander of Samoan descent, rather than an islander waiting to return home. In the second half of the novel we get a glimpse at the interiority of the boy and discover that he has bound his “new” identity to his relationship with the girl:
“For you, she has become an extension of who and what you have grown into through knowing her. Without her, you would be much less than you are now. As you walk the main street of this city which, through loving her, you have learnt to accept, under the dark dome of this sky that covers this country which, through loving her, you have grown to know in all its moods and sickness and loneliness and joy and colours and cruelty, this is what your heart tells you. She is you; the very pores of your breath. Without her, this city, this country, would be a barren place of exile” (129).

The boy’s relationship with the girl becomes a symbol of his relationship with New Zealand; he becomes one with both. After he finds out that the girl is pregnant and decides that he wants to marry her, the boy even tells his father that he might not return to Samoa with his family.
Not only does he come to know the country through love but he comes to know himself; his moods, his sickness and loneliness and his joys. When the relationship between the couple ends the boy becomes exiled from himself in a sense. After the girl tells him that she will not be returning to New Zealand, the boy becomes confused once again about his identity. His aggression toward papalagi returns (he beats the “surfie” from the party in a bar) and he returns to Samoa with his family and tries to embrace the Samoan culture as his own through dress, language, food and even religion to some extent. He is ashamed of the way his family exploits their new wealth and New Zealand lifestyle, and he is taken aback by the distain of the “whitewashed” hotel workers in Apia for the Samoans of the “back districts” (195). At the same time, however, he simply cannot acclimate himself to the fa’a-Samoa and finds himself longing to return to New Zealand. But ultimately the bond with New Zealand that his relationship with the girl fostered cannot be broken. At the end of the novel his love for both the country and the girl remain. New Zealand has become his homeland, and his identity is bound to this country where he fell in love.

Sons for the Return Home

After reading, Sons for the Return Home, I was especially surprised by the characters desire to make each other feel what it is like to be a member of the opposing culture. I then began to realize this practice is seen in many of the texts we have read.
When the girl takes the boy to the university party, she leaves him by himself to go socialize with her friends, all along fully knowing he is very shy and lacks the social skills which would make him feel comfortable in the setting. Similarly, the boy deliberately makes a point for her to feel awkward at his Samoan church party. On more than one occasion during this particular scene he states that he didn’t say anything to her about the reasons she would not fit in but rather thought, “she had to find out for herself” (60). This concept was very interesting, I personally got the feeling that both of them knew they had to have a first hand experience of what the other felt as well as know what the other culture was like. In the same way, it is the idea of having to experience the racism the other feels in order to truly love one another. The boy, when questioned about his motives for making her feel humiliated during the church gathering, tells her “now you know something of what it’s like being part of a minority group” (63).
Likewise, in Potiki, the native people are confronted by the Dollarman in hopes to gain their trust as well as an agreement to sell their land and have it be used for “progressive” resort areas and attractions. When they agree to meet the man Toko questions how they should set up the meeting house, Roimata responds that they should “let the man be like everyone else because it is good psychology”, Toko asks “you mean let him sit on the floor in his suit and his sock feet so he’ll feel a fool, him not being used to our ways?” Roimata simply remarks, “I mean let the boot be on the other foot for a change. Let him feel what we sometimes feel . . . in different situations” (100). This passage like those in Sons for the Return Home, was very powerful. The concept was extremely profound; if the man was to feel uncomfortable and out of place he might be able to see their views and understand where they are coming from.
In Achebe’s Things Fall Apart, the Igbo people are encountered with the Christian religion and faced with the ideas of conversion to the new religion. The majority of the people immediately feel overwhelmed and bombarded, however, the Christian make a point to let them know they too often feel the same way. The Igbo people respond by trying to make the Christians understand their ways of life and try to immerse them into their culture, the Christian leaders agree to this and are able to somewhat understand their ways. At the end, the tribe and the religious people realize they have more in common than they first thought, it is even stated that Mr. Brown, one of the most prominent figure in the conversions “learned a good deal about the religion of the clan” (181).
After reading these stories I realized that they all have similar themes of one feeling out of place or uncomfortable. I thought it was very interesting that they all realized the need to feel what another felt or went through in order to fully understand them and even appreciate them and their culture.

Sons for the Return Home

After reading, Sons for the Return Home, I was especially surprised by the characters desire to make each other feel what it is like to be a member of the opposing culture. I then began to realize this practice is seen in many of the texts we have read.
When the girl takes the boy to the university party, she leaves him by himself to go socialize with her friends, all along fully knowing he is very shy and lacks the social skills which would make him feel comfortable in the setting. Similarly, the boy deliberately makes a point for her to feel awkward at his Samoan church party. On more than one occasion during this particular scene he states that he didn’t say anything to her about the reasons she would not fit in but rather thought, “she had to find out for herself” (60). This concept was very interesting, I personally got the feeling that both of them knew they had to have a first hand experience of what the other felt as well as know what the other culture was like. In the same way, it is the idea of having to experience the racism the other feels in order to truly love one another. The boy, when questioned about his motives for making her feel humiliated during the church gathering, tells her “now you know something of what it’s like being part of a minority group” (63).
Likewise, in Potiki, the native people are confronted by the Dollarman in hopes to gain their trust as well as an agreement to sell their land and have it be used for “progressive” resort areas and attractions. When they agree to meet the man Toko questions how they should set up the meeting house, Roimata responds that they should “let the man be like everyone else because it is good psychology”, Toko asks “you mean let him sit on the floor in his suit and his sock feet so he’ll feel a fool, him not being used to our ways?” Roimata simply remarks, “I mean let the boot be on the other foot for a change. Let him feel what we sometimes feel . . . in different situations” (100). This passage like those in Sons for the Return Home, was very powerful. The concept was extremely profound; if the man was to feel uncomfortable and out of place he might be able to see their views and understand where they are coming from.
In Achebe’s Things Fall Apart, the Igbo people are encountered with the Christian religion and faced with the ideas of conversion to the new religion. The majority of the people immediately feel overwhelmed and bombarded, however, the Christian make a point to let them know they too often feel the same way. The Igbo people respond by trying to make the Christians understand their ways of life and try to immerse them into their culture, the Christian leaders agree to this and are able to somewhat understand their ways. At the end, the tribe and the religious people realize they have more in common than they first thought, it is even stated that Mr. Brown, one of the most prominent figure in the conversions “learned a good deal about the religion of the clan” (181).
After reading these stories I realized that they all have similar themes of one feeling out of place or uncomfortable. I thought it was very interesting that they all realized the need to feel what another felt or went through in order to fully understand them and even appreciate them and their culture.

A house is not a home?

Of the boy’s return back to Samoa, Wendt writes:

It was hard to believe that he had spent nearly twenty years preparing and waiting for this return. So many years and now nothing more than an uncomfortable seat, as a stranger, in a bus packed with the mythical characters of the legends his parents had nourished him on for so long. ’Forget her’, he heard his brother say in the darkness. And the reality of New Zealand was with him again (172-3)

I believe that this particular passage provides a couple of examples of how Wendt’s writing allows the reader to not only see the boy and girl relationship from the inside, but also to struggle along with the boy through his conflict with the concept of ‘home’.

Was the boy really “preparing” and “waiting” for this return to his homeland, or merely just acting in part to his parents’ homeland? It cannot be just coincidence that the two biggest causes of conflict in the boy’s life are compacted into those lines; after all, if “home is where the heart is”, and his heart is still with the girl, then it would follow that he may (still) feel that his home is back in New Zealand. For the boy, New Zealand is reality itself, and the Samoan homeland as just another place from his parents stories—just “legend”. Where Samoa, for the boy, seems to be a prison from which “he couldn’t escape the noise and smell of people…enveloping him” (176), then New Zealand, and even the boy’s return to New Zealand means freedom—“He was alive; at a new beginning. He was free of his dead” (217). Much like his father felt when he let go of the demons of his father’s memory (“I feel free now. Free. I forgive him. And I didn’t fail him. Even if I did, I don’t care anymore” (208)), so too does the boy feel free in his new beginning: a ‘new’ life for himself.

Wendt also seems to use pronouns to allow the reader to completely immerse himself or herself in the intimate relationships of the novel—not only that of boy and girl, but also between boy and “home”. The novel feels –even becomes—a universal drama, in which the reader can become completely immersed, where our own names could be inserted for the characters’; proper nouns and names, then, would seem to function merely as external labels not (properly) encompassing the internal, ‘deeper’ meaning (not to sound cliché). It seems also, that (for the most part) only the “home-lands” are referred to by their proper nouns (e.g.: ‘Wellington’ & ‘New Zealand); from what I remember, even the names of the boy’s and the girl’s parents (or grandparents, for the boy) are omitted. Wendt seems to suggest that putting a name to a face, or alternatively, a name to an abstract notion (i.e. ‘love’ or ‘racism’), would not allow you to understand the (internal) values of the characters; as Grace in Potiki writes, it would not “let the boot be on the other foot”.

The Worth of a Man is Measured in Terms of Fear

Towards the end of the first half of Albert Wendt’s novel Sons for the Return Home, Wendt fills an entire chapter (Chapter 16) with a series of almost Dueteronomical laws given to his unnamed protagonist and his brother by their mother and father. On the top of the hierarchy of rules and customs given to the boys by their parents is the denouncement of fear and cowardice by their father. “A man’s worth is measured in terms of courage,” their dad tells them “if he is a coward he might as well not live.”
Structurally it is interesting that Wendt puts this set of family “laws” in the middle of the book, because the reader can already see that some of them are in conflict with the life of the protagonist, and as the reader delves into the later half of the book, they are able to see the protagonist stray even further from this set of rules; in particular the one forbidding fear and cowardice.
Soon after this chapter, “the boy” and “the girl” go no an extended camping vacation together, a trip on which we begin to see their lives truly mesh, and their love grow. As the boy finds himself falling more and more in love with the girl, he is looking at a hawk and Wendt tells us he begins to see the “beauty of fear, the awesome depth of freedom.” The boy is finally obtaining something that is so precious to him and so vital to him (his love for the girl) that he is beginning to feel this immense fear of losing it. However he is still struggling to accept the problematic nature of going against the ideas that have been engrained in him since childhood, perhaps this is demonstrated by his furious frustration when the hawk is shot down by the girl.
However the boy is able to more fully accept this idea in a later chapter. As e approaches a party that we know he has been invited to by the girl, we are told he is “confronted with the fact that he could lose her.” He goes into the party and is extremely uncomfortable as the girl flirts and dances with other guys. She goes as far as to try to incite a fight between the boy and the host of the party. She tries to provoke the boy by screaming that he is a “coward.” However the boy does not respond, he simply walks out of the house and the girl follows.
Before the boy met the girl he would have fought the arrogant host of the party just to prove that islanders aren’t cowards, in honor of what his father taught him long ago. But the boy no longer feels the need to prove he is not afraid because meeting the girl has taught him “the beauty of fear.”
At the end of the chapter, after being told by the girl that she is pregnant, the boy finishes learning the lesson that he started learning while watching the hawk. He thinks “Loving her and knowing to the frightened quick of your bones that you can now lose her, has made you fearfully aware for the first time of the impermanence of all things and the finality of life.” Falling so completely in love with the girl, and being confronted with the possibility of losing her, made the boy realize the incredible power of fear. It made him realize that fear of losing something lets you know that you have a reason to live for; and so in contrast to what his father once told him, it is not in terms of courage, but rather in terms of fear, that the worth of a man’s life is measured.

Sons for the Return Home

I had several glorious ah-ha moments during the second half of the book, but I confess I'm left knowing that I do not completely understand the complexity and depth Wendt achieved - it was brilliant. The circular significance, revealed at the end with the grandfather's story, is just that: a revelation. It's like when you don't even realize you're lost until you realize you're approaching what looks to be your starting point. It can be very clarifying and/or very disorienting. Parts of the second half were clarifications, and parts were disorienting, and some parts are both.

I think Part 2 was, in general, clear. The reader still feels familiar in the text, is still comfortable in their relationship even despite the turbulence. Even the girl's father's confession about his own forbidden love for a Maori girl (142) seems to complete a circle within the girl's side of the story. By the end of Part 3, this metaphor, and her reconciliation with her father, both seem somewhat shallow compared to his; but then again she is pakeha and he's Samoan, right?? Around Chapter 31, it becomes pretty uncomfortable when we find out she's not coming back and then we read about the boy's revenge in the bathroom. Yet, even throughout my heartbreak (and I don't mean that contritely, the description of her loneliness after the abortion, the beautiful chapter describing her little girl in the park, and the loss of their love truly made my heart ache), I did not feel disoriented.

In Part 3, the reader is taken totally out of their element. Physically, the story travels to Samoa, and the boy begins his life, not only without the girl, but without any remnants of their love (or at least he tries to). There are large sections of text where she isn't mentioned, where there is indeed no place for her. When he describes life on the island, and the cultural traditions and peculiarities, it is fascinating. The reader is able, with him, to forget about the girl for awhile. Yet the reader never feels at home. I say the reader, but I know I personally identify with his need for privacy and his need to be apart. I have more than a trace of that in my own personality, and I know what it feels like when love takes you out of that exile and truly makes you feel at home. But, as we learn more about his grandfather, and when finally the whole story is revealed, we think we see the circular pattern, we think a resounding tragedy has occurred across generations. Wendt says: "He had betrayed the only person he had ever really loved; and he had betrayed himself. Perhaps it was because he loved her too completely when he had not fully conquered his own fears and shadows and vanity as a man." (208) We think, perhaps he betrayed her and himself by never writing to her of his true thoughts, his true feelings, to stop her. Perhaps it was his own insecurity, and his fear of losing her, that stopped him. And perhaps that is true, but oh, when we find out what his mother has done, I felt like the circle had been broken by her. In fact, I find it hard not to hate her after reading this book. And as I thought back on it, I cannot think of any instances where she showed anything more than the stereotypical love of the stereotypical mother. Her character is never developed like his father's is. She is concerned about a sense of propriety, that her children follow the rules and succeed, and that they have clean clothes and eat well. There are not any moments of deeper connection between the two of them, except perhaps when she consoles him after he tells his father he will not become a doctor. And except for the last scene in Samoa, because they are without a doubt in sync in that scene, despite the chaos it appears to be to the 'outsiders' the Samaon natives, the friends and relatives of the family. And by the way, if my calculations are correct, the day that he slaps her and 'the womb of his grief and guilt' opens (215), is also right around 9-10 months after we find out the girl is pregnant.

The end is so poignant. The plane, flying back to New Zealand, reminded me of the hawk 'rising, rising, until it attained that point of balance between the forces.' (216) Only this time she doesn't shoot him down, he is truly going on to start his life anew. And just as we said earlier in the class, once contact with the coloniser (European) has been made, it can never return to the way it was pre-contact.

Skeletons in the Closet

Albert Wendt’s novel, Sons for the Return Home, portrays the struggle for true love to endure in a world immersed in racism. Although the main characters struggle to overcome the prejudice exhibited by the people around them, including their own families, it becomes evident that they cannot escape the values and ideals that have been bestowed among them. Prejudice, like a hereditary disease, is passed from parent to child. It becomes a vicious circle, like grandfather’s palm groves, that encircle the inflicted individual—preventing them from seeing the truth.

During the novel, the Samoan boy and his palagi girlfriend leave on a roundtrip to explore the North Island of New Zealand. While traversing the country, the Samoan protagonist takes a emotional journey, a journey of maturation. Through the knowledge of his girlfriend’s palagi ancestors he uncovers an embedded racism within him. This deep-seated rage is exposed when the young girl shoots and kills the hawk and the boy exclaims, “Your lilly-white ancestors ate everything else that was worth eating in this fucken area. Now you even want to kill the bloody scavengers you brought with you” (95)! By referencing the color of her “lilly-white” skin, the boy displays an inherit racism. His racism is also evident in the continuous reference to her past palagi lovers. The pakeha girl also displays prejudice attitudes when she makes generalizations about Islanders as a whole, asking if they “beat their women” (65). Although their physical love is able to temporarily transcend the racism between them, it is not able to overcome it. As his romantic affair comes to an abrupt end, the boy becomes haunted by his own guilt and his own personal “skeletons.”

Upon returning to Samoa, the boy discovers the truth and similarities between him and his grandfather. His father explains that boy his father and his son sought truth. He claims that this ability to “see clearly, see honestly” prevented him from acquiring a sense of belonging (204). Living in Samoa again, the boy is faced with the false realties of his mother’s childhood myths. Even though he was able to recognize beauty in Samoa and New Zealand he was also able to see “clearly” behind people’s visage—uncover the ugly truths of humanity in both countries—and the imperfections of each home. In a disturbing similarity, the boy discovers that like him, his grandfather also experienced the emotional difficulties of an abortion. The unborn baby became a symbol for the lost love between both his grandparents and him and his palagi girlfriend. Commenting on his grandfather’s shame, his father states, “Perhaps it was because he had loved her too completely when had had not fully conquered his own fears and shadows and vanity as a man. We forget too easily what we are, and—most of all—they beauty we are capable of if we heal ourselves” (208). Like his grandfather, the boy had not “fully conquered his own fears and shadows.” Through their relationship, he continuously doubted his girlfriend’s love for him—feeling she is ashamed of him with her rich palagi friends. Both lovers flee to their motherland in hopes of forgetting one another, their past. Following the boy to Samoa, it becomes evident that he is unable to “heal himself.” The child, which would have been a culmination of their love, became a ghost of what would never be.

The novel oddly concludes with the myth of Maui’s death in his former wife’s genitals. Perhaps, the protagonist in ripping up his poems is finally killing his love. Maui is killed happily in love’s embrace and the boy’s grandfather dies freeing his conscious of killing the one he loved. It seems that the boy comes to finally accept the circumstances of his ended relationship. I am reminded of the following prophesy his father tells him earlier in the novel: “‘Some day you too will have to accept something that will break your heart…Not because you want to accept it, but because you won’t be able to do anything to change it’” (120). The boy finally realizes that he cannot change the circumstances of his lost child and love; and therefore, he must learn to accept it.

Love in the ''Sons of Return''

In Albert Wendt’s ‘‘Sons for the Return Home’’, love is conceived differently by individuals. Actually, the book shows that pure love exists, however it is altered by the issue of race. It is related to what we talked about in class, the tension between the interior and the exterior : the ‘‘boy’’ and the ‘‘girl’’ have a pure and simple relationship, but it is made difficult because of the issue of race. They are constantly reminded by the exterior that he is a Samoan boy who has fallen in love with a Papalagi girl, and vice-versa. The opposition between the two different conceptions of love is also expressed by their parents. Interestingly, both families echo each other in their attitude: the Samoan mother and the Papalagi mother are against the union of their children, whereas their fathers are more tolerant.

Both mothers have almost the same attitude when they meet the mate of their children. During the dinner, they seem quite pleased but it is not the case afterwards. For instance, when the Papalagi girl comes , she ‘‘wants to show that she can be more New Zealander than the New Zealander’’(Wendt, 70). However, when the Samoan boy asks his mother about the Papalagi girl, she answers : ‘‘She won’t fit into Samoa…Our way of life, our people may destroy her’’(Wendt, 73). Things worsen when he announces her his desire to marry her. She is outraged and answers : ‘‘My own son married to a papalagi. My grandchildren to be half-castes. It cannot be.’’ (Wendt, 135). In other words, the Samoan mother reduces the love of his son to a matter of race and nothing more. She does not take into account his feelings, his interior, but rather exterior factors. She thinks about her reputation among other people from her community, and does not think above that, about the essence of their love.
We find the same pattern in the girl’s family. When she announces her mother that she wants to marry him, the mother observes : ‘‘He’s dark, isn’t he ? Oh, why did you have to ruin my day ?’’(Wendt, 131). Again, like the Samoan mother, the Papalagi mother refers to the exterior, the color of the boy’s skin. For the mothers, it seems that the exterior must shape the definition of love.

The vision of the dads is different, they are more tolerant. Contrary to his wife, the Samoan father reassures his son about his choice. ‘‘But I don’t suppose they’re (Papalagi women) any different from our own women. All women, the good women, they’re all heal a man’s pain, like soothing ointment or the air of the morning. Is she like that ?’’(Wendt, 136). The Samoan father does not let exterior factors shape his definition of a ‘‘good woman’’ and by extension his definition of love. In the contrary, love must be related to the qualities of a person, in other words to the interior. He points out the essence of love.
It is a bit more complex the Papalagi father. Like his wife, he too worries about exterior factors but not that much. Actually, he is able to understand his daughter because he went through a similar situation. He wanted to get married to a Maori girl, but his parents forced him away from her. Here again, we find the tension between interior and exterior : love was there but was made impossible because of the issue of race and other exterior factors. Her dad even adds at the end of his account: ‘‘ We become creatures we never really mean to because of circumstances…’’(Wendt, 143).

As we have seen, a true and pure love exists between the ‘‘boy’’ and the ‘‘girl’’. However, it is made complicated because of their exterior. Both mothers don’t want their children to get married because of exterior factors. However, both dads oppose this view, and offer a definition that describe the essence of love.

Love = Life, Death and Destruction

“Loving her and knowing to the frightened quick of your bones that you can now lose her, has made you fearfully aware for the first time of the impermanence of all things and the finality of life: that even love—the most precious feeling we can have for one another—can die or be destroyed. But you have no choice. You are committed totally, for love commits one totally to life and to death” (p 129).

It is imperative within this quotation to note the persistent references to death, and mortality; that in finding love we simultaneously find death. In this respect, love is essentially only “precious” and conspicuously longed for simply because we are mortal, because it can so easily be removed, because we can so easily be removed. If we were immortal beings, love would not be coveted. Our mortality, our impermanence, our ability to perish is what makes love so extraordinary.

It is therefore through this perception of love that Wendt comes to the conclusion that when one commits to love, there is a commitment to life and to death as well. In short, by committing to love we commit ourselves to the greatest virtue of being and in affect give ourselves life. Yet, in committing to love we are in fact recognizing its rarity, its value, and its remarkable presence. In turn we have to recognize death, and commit to death in order for the greatness of love to not be tainted. Therefore, there truly is no choice in the matter; when one chooses love one chooses life and death.

It is interesting then to reflect upon the portion of the passage that states, “even love…can die or be destroyed.” This statement perhaps gives a third option to committing to love: destruction. Thus in committing to love we commit to life, death and destruction. This particular analysis is telling of Wendt’s portrayal of the relationship between the boy and the girl, as well as his conceptions of racism. In loving each other they create a home, a place of belonging, and essentially give aesthetic life to one another, and literal life to the baby they conceive. Yet their love is also connected to death because they both perpetually fear losing one another, which acknowledges the transient existence of life, and more importantly, they also literally commit to death through the girl’s abortion; a feeble attempt to reconcile their decision to marry and keep their love alive.

What is there to make of the destruction then? How does love destroy? Wendt makes the destruction of love clear through the deeply penetrating motif of racism when he states, “’Now I’m beginning to understand what it’s like,’ she said” (p 24). The unexplained “it’s” is initially confusing for the reader is unclear if Wendt is discussing racism or love. Yet he purposefully injects “it’s” in order to assimilate their existences into one another. Love is a pivot to racism, and visa versa, each becomes part of the others process. Therefore love not only destroys race as depicted by the incredible and insatiable love of the boy and girl, but race also destroys love as seen through the many relationships that are torn apart, as well as the baby created in lovemaking that is taken away. It, love and racism, is a delicate balance—a tight rope if you will—and looking at what Wendt uses as supports; life, death, and destruction; it becomes easy to understand how the boy imagines Maui to be happy within his death (217). For in death he found life and love.

A Racial Sin

In the works we’ve read so far the narrator and the characters have all professed a deep love for their homeland. One of Wendt’s main characters, the “boy,” flies in the face of this assumption. Upon his return to Samoa he finds a home neither as he remembered it nor as he was told by his parents. What could have caused this change, and why is it so different from perhaps the Igbo or the Maori homelands?
In the previous novels the introduction of a new “homeland” or in a sense a bias for another homeland in which a colony is viewed was seen as an invasion of sorts. Here in Sons for the Return Home a family has been exiled and a new homeland, or undergone a “reverse invasion” of sorts. Mixing the reactions of the family and centering them around the boy and his girlfriend shows how the boy who embraces his situation battles subtly against the mother who brings them back to their home in Samoa. Blending them all together is the girlfriend who seems to embody the racist attitudes permeating New Zealand.
This idea allows the abortion, which at first seems to be only the sin and pain of the loss of an unborn child, to become the ultimate example of the incompatibility of the races according to the mother of the boy, who is discovered to have advised the girl to undergo the operation. At first it appeared that the abortion was a problem limited to the boy and the girl, but when the boy returned to Samoa and enters into the relationship with the girl from Apia the pain returns to him full force, as if to say that the racism he overcame in New Zealand is a prison just as the racism was in that it is inescapable. The relationships and sins of the past, as Wendt shows by juxtaposing the past with the present, will always be carried with one, seen poignantly towards the end of the novel when the father converses with the boy about his “honest” grandfather.

The Ghost of Racism: Fear and Ignorance

Wendt deftly contrasts two cultures, those of Samoans and New Zealanders of European descent, while articulating the underlying similarities of human nature in both societies. He illustrates that the same emotions motivate people of both heritages, but those sentiments manifest themselves in different ways. The role of fear and ignorance weaves throughout experiences of both cultures in the novel; though the behaviors and interactions of Samoans and New Zealanders may seem very different, they often all stem from these emotions. When the main character’s father inquired about the nature of the evil spirits in some Samoan patients, the grandfather explained, “there were no such beings as ghosts or evil spirits—only fear and ignorance” (32). These sentiments haunt Samoans in one way and New Zealanders in another, but both fall prey to them.
For Wendt’s Samoan characters, ignorance of the Western system’s intricacies causes fear because they feel powerless. This paralyzing process of misunderstanding, fear, and rejection occurs nearly every time that Samoans encounter the institutions of European society. When the boy’s mother could not conceive, she went to the Western-style hospital with much trepidation because of the horrible stories she had heard. Because Samoans did not understand the medical procedures involved in surgery, they feared hospitals and avoided them. Likewise when the boy’s father had to overcome ignorance-induced fear when he first entered the factory: “He was afraid of the factory; he understood little of what went on in it” (53). These cross-cultural interactions, for which Samoans had little preparation or background knowledge, caused them to feel powerless and afraid.
The same root emotions touched the New Zealanders in Wendt’s story, but in these characters the fear often gave way to hatred. The girl’s mother was from a family, her husband explained, which “had never really tried to understand other races…it was just a lack of understanding plus a fear of the unknown” (146). Wendt suggests that this phenomenon is the root of racism. White New Zealanders choose not to—or do not have a way to—learn about native cultures, so they develop fear, which in turn gives way to prejudice. Similarly the ignorant misconception that Polynesian men are more virile than their white counterparts causes men of European descent to feel inadequate and threatened. The main character realizes the repercussions of their stereotype when he notices the man at the party trying to act tough, and notes, “The whole history of the pakeha had been cursed with this fear, and the Maoris and other minority groups had to pay for it” (125). Misconceptions about unknown groups feed this pattern of ignorance and fear identified by the boy’s grandfather. Both Samoans and New Zealanders tend to react with fear when faced with the unknown, thus perpetrating the racist strains of their societies.

Homelands and Love

Early on in Wendt's novel, Sons for the Return Home, the main characters profess their love for one another after the girl has his first encounter with racism:

" 'Now I'm beginning to understand what it's like,' she said.  She reached over and gripped his right hand.
The starless sky seemed to press down on the car as it rushed headlong into the neon lights of the city, pursuing tram rails that glittered like knife blades.
I love you.
I love you too." (Wendt 24)

Because Wendt has this moment occur immediately after the experience of racism that occurs at the party, Wendt seems to suggest that the girl had to experience racism in order to fully understand the boy.  She needed to feel what it was like to be in his position in order to really know him, and therefore to really love him.  Once she understood all that he was going through, they were able to articulate their love for one another.
I think that Wendt's novel tells us a lot about the power of love.  In this novel, love was able to unite the boy and the girl across societal, cultural, and economic gaps.  Sons for the Return Home is very much about the boy's coming of age and accepting his own identity.  His love relationship with the girl is a clear illustration of one of his struggles with his identity, Samoan versus papalagi.  In New Zealand, he is clearly an islander, native, or Samoan.  He stands out.  Back in Samoa, he stands out because he is so much like the papalagi, or a New Zealander Samoan.  His love for the girl helps him come to terms with this struggle.
 In New Zealand, he learns to accept the country that he came to as a foreigner, or "exile" as his own home, "Without her, you would be much less than you are now.  As you walk the main street of this city, which, through loving her, you have learnt to accept, under the dark dome of this sky that covers this country which, through loving her, you have grown to know in all its moods and sickness and loneliness and joy and colours and cruelty, this is what your heart tells you.  She is you" (129).  The relationship between the boy and the girl, their love, made the boy feel at home in a country where he once felt awkward and out of place.
What Wendt might be getting at in Sons for the Return Home is that love is more powerful than any external influence, societal rule, or cultural tradition.  Love can break boundaries, as demonstrated by the relationship between the boy and the girl in the novel. His relationship with the girl and everything that they went through so changed the boy that he was unable to find comfort and create a home in the country, Samoa, where he previously felt he always belonged.

Sexual Violence Against Women

In Albert Wendt’s Sons for the Return Home violence, specifically sexual violence against women, plays a key role in two scenes that enable the boy to take control of his own life and to force this control onto another human being, particularly other women.  First, the boy attacks and possibly even sexually assaults the girl, a scene which shockingly ends with their profession of a deeper love unto one another.  Wendt writes,


He hit her.  She spun away from him and slammed into the wall behind her.  She stood there, hands clutching her bleeding mouth, watching him as he moved towards her.  He hit her again.  Her head thumped against the wall…

He tore her clothes from her.  She didn’t resist him.  He pushed her on to the bed.  He pushed her legs apart and started making love to her.  She tolerated him.

‘You love me, don’t you?’ he asked… ‘I’m the only man you’ve ever loved.  You must love me!’

She put her arms around him. (116)


“Toleration” is not consent, therefore the boy rapes the girl; he does so in order to gain control, agency, and domination over her.  Her forces himself onto her just as he forces her to love him, saying “You must love me!”  The fact that the girl succumbs and “put her arms around him” sexualizes the violence that the boy uses against her.  Violence is seen as merely a way of gaining access to sex instead of as the atrocity that it is.  Further more, the violence not only leads to sex, but also to “love”, which plays into gender stereotypes of passive, dominated girl and active, dominating boy.  After sex, the couple talks about how glad they are that the fight ensued; he says, “And I do love you more, I think,” and she replies, “I think I love you too.  More so now.” (116)  Deepening love stemming from both rape and domestic abuse is not only unrealistic, but frightening.  The boy obviously successfully abuses her to the point at which she values herself less, needing desperately to be loved by her abuser. In reaction to his own vulnerability, he gains control over her, forcing her to tell him what he wants to hear.


In the boy’s highly sexualized relationship with the receptionist at the hotel he stays at in Samoa, his aggression appears again, this time to stop her from loving him, to free himself from commitment, which he obviously does not want.  After the receptionist tells the boy that she loves him during their first night together, Wendt writes,


He gripped her hair and pulled down.  ‘Tell me the truth!’

Tears streamed from the corners of her closed eyes; she pummeled feebly at his back with her fists.  ‘You can’t leave me like this!’

‘It’s not a sin, is it?’


‘You like it, don’t you?’


‘And you don’t love me and I don’t love you?’ he asked.  She tried to move her hips against him.  He pinned her down with his full weight.  ‘Okay, I don’t love you!’ she confessed. ‘Now, please…!’  He resumed the rhythmic movement of his hips.  ‘Good,’ she murmured.  ‘Good!’ (200)


The boy uses sexual violence as a vehicle to get whatever he wants.  It plays into the gender stereotype of violent masculinity, and forces women’s submission and subservience.  After the receptionist “confesses” that in fact she does not love him, he continues to have sex with her, and she responds positively, saying “good.”  The violence is once again sexualized as she accepts his violence and furthermore encourages it through her reaction of giving him what he wants.  Similarly, pornographic material circulating the world depicts sexual violence particularly against women as heterosexual normative behavior instead of as the injustice that marginalizes half of the world’s population.  Although this violent scene is not romanticized as is the boy’s violence against the girl, it still gets him exactly what he wants, freedom.  When he is done with her, he casts her aside, saying, “Don’t touch me.” (201) Violence is used by the boy to control the women around him and to control his own emotions.  The women unfortunately reinforce his behavior through their own, and the consequence is that the audience perceives violence as a normal aspect of romance, sex, love, and freedom.

Homeland as a Destroyer

Unlike the other novels we’ve read so far this semester, where the characters rely on their homelands and past lives as strength, Wendt’s Sons for the Return Home implies that the past can be self destructing. The novel tugs at the issues of racism more intensely then our previous readings, as he follows the life of a boy who falls deeply in love with a girl of a higher status. The two are constantly haunted by societal boundaries established before their birth. Their relationship is defined by these boundaries, and eventually falls apart because of it.
However, what I found most interested was the boy’s ability to feel at ease in places that had no familiarity to him. Wendt writes, “Why was it that he was always attracted to desolate places, he wondered…Perhaps it was because such places reflected the truth of the human heart.” Wendt makes the argument that the homeland is simply an illusion, and creates a false sense of who we are and what we stand for. The homeland is confining, and divides you from the people that you are meant to love the most. When it comes down to it, all human hearts look the same, and hold the same blankness as we are brought into the world. Perhaps the couple was driven to abort their baby not because they were afraid of the responsibility of a child, but they were afraid to bring a blank heart into a world that would never accept its mixed heritage.
The past corrupts the relationship on a concrete level as well, as the two struggle to gain their parents approval. However, it is not their lack of support that breaks their bond, but the girl’s inability to come to terms with the failure of her parent’s relationship. She is haunted by their marriage. Wendt writes, “‘You know why I brought you home tonight?’ He didn’t reply. ‘Because I wanted you to see what we can become’” (40). After the pregnancy, she sees herself going in the same direction as her parents. She cannot bear to live the same life that she grew up in. She leaves and tries to free herself of her homeland, however from the brief insight the reader does have access to, it is likely that she can never truly emerge from the prison of the past.
Wendt works to provide an answer to the p as the boy and his father talk about the life of the Grandfather. The father comes to terms with the cruel things the Grandfather does. Wendt writes, “We forget to easily what we are—most of all—the beauty we are capable of if we heal ourselves” (206…ish) It is when we depend only upon the beliefs of our homeland, and ignore the strength of our heart, that we let go of what is good for us.

Love and Discovery in Sons for the Return Home

The depth of the boy’s discovery in Sons for the Return Home is all the more significant because of the way he comes to discover himself, the girl, and the world around him. The way the boy perceives the natural world, the city, and society changes as his character grows. The intimate relationship the boy shares with the girl forces him to direct his attention towards his inability to reconcile the conflicting emotions within himself. Having been raised in a country that is not his own, coupled with his upbringing creates a degree of alienation. This alienation is further cultivated through the external world’s focus on race and ethnicity in relation to how an individual is perceived and then valued. The boy is full of hatred and resentment; he is an outsider in his own home. The development of the boy once he encounters this girl, this papalagi girl, emphasizes the importance of interpersonal relationships and their role as magnified and framed contact zones. The fact that the girl is a papalagi creates another conflict the boy must cope with. He loves that which he was taught to see differently. The boy has a racist view of the papalagi people just as many papalagi people have a negative view of him. The difference in the boy before and after he has loved the girl reflects the notion of never going back. The interaction and growth achieved in the relationship has created a permanent change within both the boy and the girl. It was the girl who allowed the boy to establish a connection to the land and to nature as a whole. “By loving her, he was feeling for the first time a growing and meaningful attachment to the country which had bred her” (24). The country became the girl for the boy. He was aware of how he was changing, and knew the reason for why he was changing. The way the boy responded to the papalagi boy at the party after the couple returned from their trip indicates the change he was experiencing: “Before I met you I would have broken him in front of his friends. I would have enjoyed it” (126). The boy no longer feels a need to ‘prove’ anything, and this reflects his growth as a man through his relationship with the girl.

The trip the couple took through the North Island was about discovery and exploration in a literal as well as figurative way. As the boy and girl grew together, they were discovering more about themselves. The differences in the relationship when the couple is alone and in nature differs from the issues they must grapple with in society. And society and cultural identities often pierce the protective shell that is the couple’s private relationship. Even when the couple is alone, issues of race, ethnicity, and society penetrate and expose the inner feelings of the boy and the girl. There is a moment when the girl purposely tries to hurt the boy by bringing up the other papalagi men she had been sexual with before him. After they argue, the boy is desperate for reassurance, he needs to believe that she loves him more, that he is the only man she has ever loved (116). There are underlying insecurities that will always be present in their relationship. They may not escape their identities, or the identities given to them by society, and the novel takes the reader through their attempt to love despite cultural ties. After the abortion (a representation of the failed attempt to unite their respective cultures) and the dissolve of the relationship, the boy is markedly different from the boy we are first introduced to at the start of the novel. The return to Samoa expresses a discord and a longing for the country the boy used to hate. His native culture is strange and he does not seem to fit in (we see this physically represented when he becomes ill from the ‘foreign’ food for i.e.). He is a product of the culture he took on in New Zealand. Even though there is no returning to the girl, the boy is able to return because of the girl. He came to love New Zealand through his love of her. New Zealand is then his home, and that is where he ultimately returns. He found himself in the girl as she found herself in him. Essentially, the boy and the girl served as a surrogate home for one another. Although it is sad to witness the struggle the couple goes through, both the boy and the girl learn from their time together in the end; they have provided a “point of balance” (216) for one another and have healed one another to a certain degree. Even though they are not together, the boy and girl are connected. It seems fitting to me that the boy and girl do not stay together in the end. Their relationship was a learning experience and a journey toward discovery. The memory of their time together will therefore have a greater impact (almost haunting) on their lives.

Universal Experience in Sons for the Return Home

Albert Wendt uses many literary tactics in Sons for the Return Home to allow active engagement between his characters and his audience. Wendt’s use of unnamed characters, along with ambiguous punctuation and statements, achieves a heightened sense of intimacy and immediacy that accord emphasis to his themes of universal human experience. The structure of his novel seamlessly weaves stories of the past and present to demonstrate the effects of cultural tradition and history on personal identity, which specifically stresses the continuous nature of racism and love that can only be altered through re-evaluating the past. While the setting and cultural heritages of Wendt’s novel are utterly local and distinct, the interactions between his characters transcend these specifics to portray catholic emotion and experience. Albert Wendt’s methods of characterization, style, and form in Sons for the Return Home ultimately engage and connect his characters with his audience on an intensified human level in order to incite awareness regarding the effects exterior circumstances have on personal emotion, experience, and identity.

Albert Wendt refrains from naming any of his characters in Sons for the Return Home, simply distinguishing each character with general identities such as “the boy,” “the girl,” “the man,” or “the woman.” This tactic implicitly grants the reader a transcending sense of intimacy and association with each character, which emphasizes the potential freedom each individual inherently possesses to form his or her own identity. However, Wendt’s characters—and ultimately, all human beings—are restricted and confined with designated exterior identities like skin color, ancestry, and gender. This juxtaposition of freedom and restraints demonstrates the fragile nature of personal freedom: inevitably, it is repressed or shaped by daunting exterior influences, values, and opinions.

Wendt’s literary style in Sons for the Return Home creates an intimate acquaintance between his characters and his audience. Without directly using quotation marks in conversations between characters, the reader is forced into actively reading and interpreting the text independently, and as a result, the action of the story becomes immediate and direct paradoxically through Wendt’s ambiguity. This heightened realism is captured through the reader’s first-hand engagement—his or her own interpretation of who is speaking—rendering the reader to question the actions, motives, and decisions of the characters on a more personal level, which mirrors an oral quality of storytelling, where the teller and the listener actively participate in the understanding and telling of the story. Because of the ambiguous context, the reader does not know who says “I love you” first, but ultimately, the reader will recognize that it does not matter. When the reader cannot depend on context to realize who is speaking, he or she understands the mutual emotions the characters experience. Through the lens of this narration, the reader acts as a foreigner and a native, exactly the way the boy and most of the characters in the novel feel about their own identity and place in New Zealand.

The structure of Sons for the Return Home interlaces stories of the past and present, highlighting the continuity and repetition of human experience, specifically regarding racism and love. The past and the present are a part of our every emotion. Such themes transcend time itself and can be changed only by re-evaluating the past and the values one has been taught to accept, to independently determine what is true. The boy’s mother tells highly idealized stories of her Samoan life to preserve her native culture and because of the expectations of her people, yet conforming to expectation jeopardizes the freedom one possesses to articulate his or her own sense of identity. Wendt permits his reader to realize this when the boy does not conform by breaking the custom and dating a ‘papalagi’ girl. Their relationship is beneficial to their personal understanding of love and human emotion, although this knowledge comes with a price. The boy and the girl experience numerous pangs of pain because of exterior forces that stereotype and interfere with their relationship. However, through pain, one grows. When the boy and the girl experience each other’s pain, they understand the highest form of human respect, compassion, and sympathy: love.

When one sees himself in another, despite cultural, ethnic, linguistic, and social differences, they also see humanity in themselves and in others. Humanity is recognizing that someone else, who may seem foreign with a different history or even future, is actually much more similar than one may think. Individuals have a need for recognition, which entails others knowing and understanding their culture and ancestry. This ongoing need of unity, respect, and togetherness in the face of suppressing outside forces is present in the aim of Wendt’s writing. Writing in English, Wendt shares the culture and heritage of his people with an international audience who may not have the physical means to travel to his homeland. Through his literature, Wendt intends to break such physical and social borders that may impede or obstruct human connection by making his reader aware of negative influences on personal identity such as racism and positive influences such as love. The same systems of hypocrisy, prejudice, desire, and compassion are found in every culture, and Wendt’s techniques of ambiguity allow the reader access to this information, immersing them in the inherent freedom to discover one’s own identity through love in the face of exterior forces.

Wednesday, February 11, 2009

Creating Home

Throughout my life, as with most people’s early years, my home has been made and defined by my parents. While I consider my home to be the relationships and connections that I have with my family versus a physical entity, it is true that there are certain aspects of each of my houses that remain the same and make it home. There are certain traditions that we hold on to as a family that give our lives some continuity, certain arrangements of household items, and a general structure that we cling to.
Much of this stems from my parent’s, and in particular my mom’s, attempt to provide continuity throughout all of the moves that my family made as a Navy family. Perhaps this comes from their attempt to provide sanity and a safe harbor in the midst of turmoil for my family, or perhaps it comes from their attempts to hold on to some previously held conception of home. Whichever it may be, it does not change the fact that the aspects I am about to enumerate are the way my parents have created home.
Perhaps the best example and analogy of this phenomenon, for lack of a better word, can be found in our kitchen. No matter what the layout of a new kitchen may be- our silverware can always be found to the left of the sink, cleaning supplies go underneath the sink, trash will always be found immediately to the right of the sink, and so on. This certainly makes my mother’s task of making our families’ meals easier because she always knows where to find everything in her kitchen. Certain closets around the house, depending on their location in comparison to the kitchen, laundry room, or my parent’s bedroom will also house certain items.
This may all seem like minutia that is not overly important. However, in thinking about creating my own home now that I am in college and living on my own, I have begun to appreciate the subtleties around my old homes. Will my own home have anything in common? Will it have everything in common? What will I define for myself and what will I mimic of my parents? Will I be so oriented on detail or, because I will not be bouncing all around the country, will I define my home in a different way? All of these questions start to pile up and as soon as I began thinking about them, I have begun to realize the enormity of the task that creating a home really is. As I continue in my formative college years these questions will remain in the back of my mind and I will pick and choose different things that worked or did not work in college and apply them to my own home when I finally graduate.

Reassuring Darkness

Over the summer my family lives by the ocean. It’s a lovely place, a community where my mother spent her summers growing up, and now a place that my siblings and I have come to love. This summer, as I walked home from my friends’ houses, I would stop by the beach. I would walk to the edge of the boardwalk and look out at everything I saw during the day. There is something about the ocean at night that moved me. The crashing waves. The thick clouds in the darkness. The light of the moon reflecting off of the navy sea.
I remember one of the last times I went there before coming back to Loyola. I felt comfortable at home, not ready to embark on another year at Loyola, and afraid of what would come afterward. Suddenly I was overcome by all of this emotion over what I didn’t know: My future, the instable state of the country, my grandmother who needed to go to the hospital, and my worried mother that would take her there the next morning. I cried. For a reason I can’t pin down or clearly articulate. I let the darkness embrace me. I looked out at the sea, and knew that I was the only one looking from that angle at that moment. Although I sat there all by myself, I didn’t feel alone.
I think that is what joy is, and now it is presented throughout Potiki. The ability to be surrounded by pain and worry but keep moving, knowing that the ground is still there, your stories are not forgotten, and taking the opportunity to embrace more stories in the future. It’s not something we see or feel all the time, but if we are willing to wait in the darkness, we will be able to find the reason for our pain, and be able to grow from it.
The idea of finding reassurance in darkness came back to me as I read Potiki, in particular the in one of the beginning scenes with Riomata. After she returns to the homeland after twelve years she decides to wait to see Hemi and Mary:
“Before rounding the last corner I sat and rested as night came. The bag was heavy after all, and anyway it would be easier to arrive in the dark—easier to discover, under the shell of night, if there was still a place for me” (24).
Her thoughts are clear at this moment, as she has very little sensory images to take in. She is one with her thoughts, and all she can hold onto are her past and present experiences, which mold into one. In this solitude she feels the ground beneath her, and that is all she needs.
This idea of darkness comes back later on in the book, after Toko has died and the Urupa flooded. So much of the people’s identity has been taken away from them, yet they are still alive, and they must keep going. The voice of the unnamed woman, who talks of gulls, expands upon this idea, stating:
“But the dark, the dark is a gift also because in the dark there is nurturing. These things are known to the earth as well as the sky… and the watchers know it, waiting, and believing that what is not seen will one day be seen. The waiters know that the earth will give its gifts, and that the sky will too” (174).
The people have to accept the things that they cannot control. They have to accept the pain and the hardship in order to feel the joy afterward, and to know that love comes from the most trying situations. This is not easy, and it is evident through the text that the characters struggle to accept the circumstances of their lives. Riomata and Toko ask on several occasions, if this comfort is enough. In the end, their homeland rests within themselves, through the love they have for each other and the honor they pay to the past ancestors. They must hold onto themselves as their physical homeland breaks around them, and know that what is represented in the land, the poupou, the urupa, and the wharenui, take root within themselves.

Internalizing Home

Call me a “Navy brat”; call me a wanderer; call me a nomad. There are a plethora of words that can be used interchangeably to describe what normally comes to mind when one thinks of a “Navy brat”. That term does not necessarily have a negative connotation but certain attributes have been given to it. When one thinks of a Navy brat, an image of a sheltered, socially inept, and highly disciplined kid pops into mind. Parents of this “Navy brat” are often frowned upon. People wonder how those parents could put their kids through such a hard time growing up and they get uncomfortable around the high expectations and standards that the children are held to. It is almost as if outsiders are expecting something reminiscent of The Sound of Music.
What people fail to realize is that the constant moves, the uncertainty of whether or not this “home” will last for a year or five, the new faces, schools, relationships- all of these are not necessarily negative. In fact, one of the most important things that I have only just recently begun to understand and appreciate is just how much being a “Navy brat” has shaped me as a young adult. I can take some of the lessons that I learned through experience and use them as a source of strength and self-definition.
Because of my many relocations, there is not one place that I can truly say is my home in the usual definition of the word. I was born in Charleston and spent some time there. Does that make it my home? My first vivid childhood memories come from Portland. Is that where my home is? Our family enjoyed a relatively long (five year) stay in Maryland. Should my home be where I spent the most time? I finished three years of high school in Seattle, had my first real relationship there, and made the closest friends. Is that enough to constitute a home?
No. That is the most clear and concise answer to all of those questions. Throughout the many moves, family life and my relationships with siblings and parents were the one constant. Concurrently those connections have grown incredibly strong. Whenever I am struggling, I know that I have at least one person that I can turn to and know that they will understand me completely and will always be there for me. That is the most important lesson being a “Navy brat” has taught me. I can feel completely home anywhere in the world because that term, “home,” has been internalized. Physical surroundings are not nearly as important as family bonds and as long as those exist, a home in the normal sense takes second place.
One of the major points in "Things Fall Apart," is the intensely close-knit family and resulting close-knit tribe. The Igbo people are lucky in the fact that they have this tradition of strong family values. When Okonkwo is banished from the Igbo lands, it is a family connection that allows him to continue to prosper, provide for his family, and continue his life. He returns to his "motherland" and even though it had been many years since he had visited or even talked with that side of his family, they understood that someone related to them was in trouble, and they went out of their way to accomodate and make him feel welcome. Also, Achebe describes how Okonkwo feels exiled and that he is wallowing in a quagmire of self-despair and self-deprecation, his immediate family manages to make it through the exile because they rely on each other. Those relationships and the way his family dealt with the exile years reminds me of the way my family functions.

Redemptive Flames

The common cliché of home or homeland claims that its essence resonates not in the physical place, but in the people, the culture, and the histories. However, I believe it is possible for the physical place to hold just as much significance as the other elements, if not more. I have found that there is a certain comfort in the colors of the walls of my home; of my bedroom, my kitchen. I have found solitude in the hearty scents, and commotions that are trapped within the walls; I have found security knowing there is a roof over my head, and a place to rest my head at night to sleep. The walls of my home, for me, epitomize the value of the wharenui for Toko’s family as well as for the extended family of villagers. They are both a place of refuge, a place of solace, and a place to share stories that encapsulate a history; a united being.
But what happens when these walls simply do not exist? Better yet, what happens when these walls crumble, or drift away like dust? Unfortunately for many living in Baltimore this physical sense of home is translucent, feeble, or nonexistent. While the people, the culture, the histories and the stories marinate the streets, many are left with no roves, no comfort, no real sense of being. Teaching at Franklin Middle School I have had the privilege of hearing and listening to stories told of the students’ homes, of their physical walls, of their sounds, their noises their smells. I have also heard the story of one girl, Kyra, whose family was finally off of the streets, only to have their apartment burn down one week later.
As Kyra discussed the fire that crumbled the walls of her home, I could see the bitter tension rising in her words, the sound of helplessness, and the fury that settled in the heart of a once hope-filled girl. Like Toko, there was a fire rising inside of Kyra too, burning and changing her perceptions of life, “because fire does always cause to change whatever it feeds upon” (135). In this respect, for both Toko and Kyra the fire feeds upon their home, and in feeding upon their home, the fire in fact feeds upon them; upon their being. Therefore, in “taking the people’s place of resting, their place of learning, of discussing, singing, dancing, sorrow, joy, renewal” (136) the fire simultaneously steels these from the actual people. In this sense the fire had literally robbed Kyra of each of these elements personally: she no longer rests, learns, sings, dances, or finds joy in her being simply because she had no home, and what could have been her home is now dust.
The fire is then clearly defined as destroyer, and an exemplary catalyst of change. Yet, Patricia Grace make a point within her destructive imagery to reveal the redemptive spark within the flames: she states, “Fire causes to change what it touches, and yet it was, in the beginning, gift-given” (137). This is to say that fire disrupts what was, it instigates a change, yet this change is not necessarily destined to be “bad.” When the walls crumble, we begin to take refuge in people. We begin to build our home, our sense of belonging through a means that extents beyond the physical and enters the cliché of home previously established. Therefore, Kyra in entering school and mingling within the dynamic of me and her classmates has found a new home, a new sense of being established mainly through stories. Like Toko it was evident that she felt “it was good to have new skills and new ideas, and to listen to all the new stories told by all the people who came. It was good to have other to tell our own stories to, and to have them share our land and our lives. Good had followed what was not good, on the circle of our days” 145).

Tuesday, February 10, 2009

Spiral Movements

Similar to Achebe’s novel, Things Fall Apart, Patricia Grace writes her Maori novel, Potiki, in a way that reflects the nature of Maori time. Maori, the indigenous people of New Zealand, think of time and life in a spiral movement, rather than the western linear model. In the Maori spiral model, evident within their art, the past and the future influence one another—connecting to a present moment. Grace not only addresses the importance of the spiral to the Maori people, but she writes Potiki in what appears to be a spiral movement. The novel’s plot jumps from past to present as different characters tell their stories. Although characters relay the same story at times, such as the birth of Toko, the story becomes distinctly different from their point-of-view. Through this style of writing, Grace is able to show how characters, events, and the past and future are all interconnected.

"And although the stories all had different voices, and came from different times and places and understandings, though some were shown, enacted or written rather than told, each one was like a puzzle piece which tongued or grooved neatly to another. And this train of stories defined our lives, curving out from points on the spiral in ever-widening circles from which neither beginnings nor endings could be defined" (41).

Similar in Achebe, oral tradition is extremely important to the Maori people. Although the stories found in Potiki span across several generations, they all seem to be “tongued or grooved neatly to another,” which allows Grace’s narrative to flow smoothly. Time can not be though of as linear with “beginnings” or “endings,” but rather a continuous movement of “ever-widening circles” This spiral movement is symbolic in Toko’s character, who is presented with a gift of foresight.
Toko is seen throughout the novel as having remarkable foresight. He appears to be more in touch with the Maori world than any other character. As Hemi notes to the Dollarman, “It’s your jumping-off place that tells you where you’ll land. The past is the future” (94). Toko has an innate connection with his genealogy—his whakapapa carved within the community’s Marae—which guide him in his Ngati’s future. The Maori cannot prevent the westernization of their homelands, the drastic effects of colonization; however, they can preserve their culture, their whakapapa, through stories. By embracing their past and continuing to tell their stories characters like Toko live on.
The immense power of oral traditions, like waiata and the recitation of whakapapa are clearly evident within Potiki. Upon the disturbance of the community’s urupa, Granny chants a waiata that is said to “spiral thinly upwards, linking the earth that we are, to the sky that we are, joining the past that we are to the now and beyond now that we are” (130). Song, or waiata, allowed Granny to embrace her ancestors and reconnect herself to important values in Maori culture. In the end, it is the stories that continue “well into the night…until the circle had been fully turned” (180). The stories told through Maori oral traditions and carvings preserve the Maori culture and Maori identity in a drastically dynamic and globalized world.

"Turning to the Living"

Funerals, memorials, and the sense of community surrounding the death of a loved one are very important in the second half of the Grace’s novel, and I think that the traditions dealing with death are one of the things that define a culture or homeland.
The scenes in the novel that deal with death give the reader some of the strongest examples of the importance of ancestry, memory and story-telling to the Maori culture. In chapter 18, “The Urupa” for example, Grace demonstrates the importance of remembering the dead through ritual and stories. The children are extremely reverent of the dead, but at the same time, the urupa is a familiar place for them. The reader doesn’t get a sense of fear, anxiety or even sorrow from the children as the visit their relatives in the graveyard, which contrasts with the negative connotations or superstitions surrounding graves and cemeteries in western traditions. The children remember the dead through the retelling of stories about them. They also try to communicate with the spirits of their ancestors: “they would go from grave to grave squatting and putting an ear to each place” (123). The children listen for the “secrets of under the ground” and even though they cannot hear these secrets, they take turns speaking to the dead. Each of the children addresses some of their relatives and “tell them things” (124). The use of story-telling and the openness to communication with the dead demonstrates that for the Maori people life and death are not separate. Here we see the children intertwining these two “realities” and bringing death into life.
We can see this same intertwining in the events surrounding Toko’s death. Roimata explains the agony of having to bury a child: “it was difficult indeed, and painful, to watch our child being lowered, and to hear the first fall of earth, and the wailing which came from around and from within me. There was pain, finally, in turning away” (162). But after the funeral she describes the family’s obligation to “turn to the living” (162). The family does this through the celebration of the mourners after the funeral, the support of the community and by trying to return to their routine but it is difficult. I think they don’t really turn to the living until James carves Toko under loving-man on the piece of the poupou Mary saves. In this chapter we see that the carving allows Manu to overcome his grief and come back to life in a sense. Through James’ work and the story-telling in chapter 28 the family brings Toko back into the realm of the living and is able to find some peace.
Toko’s funeral and the scene with the children in the urupa brought to mind the first funeral I ever attended. It was my great-grandmother’s. Before she died, my great-grandmother was a constant presence in my life. Her home was the meeting place for my entire extended family for every holiday, baptism, graduation, engagement…basically every milestone that occurred in any of our lives was celebrated with her, and every “get together” turned into a full blown family reunion. There were at least forty people crammed into her little town house at any given time. I met relatives that I didn’t even know I had at these functions, but even with all the people it seemed like she made time to pay special attention to each of us. “Grandma Lyons” died after a long fight against colon cancer in her late eighties. Because of her sickness her death “had been with us a long time” much like Toko’s was for his family, but that didn’t make it any less painful (159).
I was probably ten or eleven when she died, and I actually don’t remember too much of her actual funeral, it was obviously more depressing than memorable. What I do remember is her wake which, in keeping with family tradition, took place at her house. Never having dealt with death before, I was very upset after the funeral and thought that having the wake at her home, still full of her possessions and our memories, was in really poor taste. But when we got there I was surprised and a little bit relieved by the drastic change in the mood of the funeral party. Instead of being morbid, having the wake in her little house actually helped with the grieving process. There were even more people there than usual. You couldn’t find a place to sit let alone a quiet place to mourn. So my family all pulled together to help my grandmother prepare the food for everyone, keep an eye on the kids, etc. It was just like celebrating a normal holiday. You could still smell her perfume around the house. Later in the evening after some people had left, we all started telling stories about our memories with her, some of them admittedly embellished, especially by the younger kids, but after a while everyone was laughing and reminiscing. Being in her house surrounded by the family it felt like Grandma Lyons was still there. It wouldn’t have been surprising if she had walked into the room and sat right down in her favorite arm chair. At that moment she was still alive for all of us, much like Toko and the ancestors are for the Tamihana family.


“We needed just to live our lives, seek out our stories and share them with each other.” (p.39) In “Potiki” by Patricia Grace the conception of what constitutes a home shifts from being grounded in the earth itself, to a broader understanding that it is the people and stories that make a home. When I first came to Loyola, I found myself struggling with the concept of home. I have lived in the same house, in the same neighborhood, in the same town my entire life, and as I put the sheets on my bed, hung up my posters and pictures, I never imagined that this foreign place would become my room. To me, “home” was my house. I knew every inch, could navigate around every corner in complete darkness, I knew exactly where to find the glasses, the best spot on the couch, and my designated seat at the table.
When I came home from school the first time to find that my mom had painted the kitchen a new color I was outraged and devastated. It wasn’t until I returned home for winter break my freshmen year that I began to look at home differently. As school became more of a home, I wondered what the connecting factor between these two distinctly different locations could be? While I may not have been able to articulate it then, reading “Potiki” made it clear. It was the people and perhaps more importantly the stories. At school, I would talk to my friends about my family, my experiences back in New York, and in doing so I brought home to Loyola. Upon returning home and sitting around the kitchen table, I would tell my family stories about Loyola and the new friends I had made, and in doing so brought a little of Loyola home as well.
When thinking about the importance of stories in my family I think about our family dinners. Ever since I was little it was a well known fact that every single night my family would sit down and eat dinner together. Similar to how Roimata described, we all had our own stories, and it was the telling and listening of those stories that made us a family. When I read the quote “It was a new realization that the centred being in this now-time simply reaches out in any direction towards the outer circles, these outer circles being named ‘past’ and ‘future’ only for our convenience”(p.39), I found myself examining exactly what types of stories were told at our family dinners. I realized that our stories change effortlessly from the past, to the present, and to the future. When sitting around a family dinner table, there is no linear time line, only feelings, love, and stories.
In “Potiki” the importance of stories is stressed from the very beginning, but is not completely understood until after their land is threatened once again by outsiders. Up until their land is threatened, the beginning of the novel focuses largely on the land itself. There is a lot of imagery dealing with the land, such as a repetitive description of the coastline. As Hemi states many times throughout the novel “Everything we need is here”. While in the beginning of the novel, Hemi is mostly referring to the fact that they have everything on the land that they need to physically live, such as the ability to raise crops, and fish in the waters, as their land is taken away from them, the statement takes on a whole new meaning. Suddenly “Everything we need is here” becomes a realization that all they need is each other, their people, their culture, and their stories.
When seeing how the people of this culture dealt with the insurgence of outsiders, in standing their ground and staying true to their customs, I found myself wishing that Okonkwo of Achebe’s “Things Fall Apart” could have come to the same conclusions. If Okonkwo had been able to realize that it is the people and the stories that make you who you are and make you home, perhaps he could have survived. In “Potiki” Uncle Stan says “Take away the heart, take away the soul, and the body crumbles.” While at the time, he was referring to their land, I think this statement holds true when speaking of the cultures heart and soul, their people and their stories. Without the people and stories, the home crumbles and cannot exist.