Wednesday, February 25, 2009

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.

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