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.

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