Tuesday, February 24, 2009

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.

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