Wednesday, October 14, 2015

Racism in Wendt's "Sons for the Return Home"

Sons for the Return Home is an interesting look at yet another cultural facet present in New Zealand. After reading Grace’s Potiki, this novel offers a modern look at racism and difficulties experienced by the Samoan people. I enjoyed this book for multiple reasons, but mainly because of the narration style. In telling the story through the voice of an impassionate, unbiased third-party, the book achieves an allegorical success. It becomes a metaphor in and of itself, and makes reading it all the more engaging. In some respects, the narration style is risky, but it works. It allows the action to flow freely and smoothly while at the same time manages to make the reader uncomfortable. For example, chapter two begins with the arrival of the author’s family to New Zealand. Like the rest of the novel, the action is related to us through the voice of someone acting as a spectator: “Their first morning at sea the boy screamed and clung to his mother when they ventured from their cabin. His father tried to soothe him with caresses and whispered affirmations that there was nothing to be afraid of. The boy screamed louder. Some of the other passengers and crew gathered to see what was wrong” (Wendt 5). This section is compelling because we as readers feel like the other passengers all gathering around to watch the tantrum. We have been given almost zero information concerning this boy’s origins or why he is afraid, which makes us third-party spectators. We see this boy and feel sympathy for him, but we do not know all that much about him.
            This novel touches on multiple adolescent fears and troubles, but it ultimately rises above those issues and becomes a very powerful statement about mixed relationships and the stresses of love. The mixed relationship becomes an even bigger problem in the face of racism and close-minded approaches from the other characters. It is a fascinating examination of a contemporary issue and I found myself drawn to the narrative as it progressed. It directly relates to problems in the Loyola community, as well as in the United States as a whole. There is still racism present in this country and biracial couples face discrimination and prejudice even today.

            The article, Nuanua, is a look at languages and colonialism’s impact on oral and written traditions. Colonialism was responsible for eradicating numerous indigenous languages, including those developed by the Aboriginal people of Australia and the Hawaiian natives. Oral and written traditions were stamped out by the Europeans, and this is rightly suggested by Wendt in the Introduction: “That literature was by Europeans who had supposedly ‘discovered’ us and traders, missionaries, colonial administrators, development experts…Colonial literature assumed, whether consciously or unconsciously, that the coloniser’s language was superior to ours and part of saving and civilising us was therefore to convert us to that language” (Wendt 2). The prose works selected represent the vast cultural “flora and fauna” amongst New Zealand’s indigenous people. The anthology is a triumph in its depiction of oral and written traditions and manages to rise above the influence of colonization by demonstrating a knack (by its various authors) for storytelling.

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