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sets the boy at odds with papalagi society, and so when we are first introduced to the character we meet an angry and withdrawn boy with an “Islander” mentality.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.