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.