Sex as Interpersonal/Social Transcendence and as Power
Sex is at the forefront of Sons for the Return Home in many different forms. These forms are not only unique to the cultures presented in the novel, both New Zealander and Samoan, but also to the individuals. How each group views sex not only reflects the views of the group/individual, but it also reflects their goals and hopes for the future.
The New Zealanders view cross ethnic sex in two primary ways, as purity and as domination. Sex, as a means of procreation, is seemingly looked down upon by the population when it comes to cross ethnic sex. This seems assumed from the beginning of the book, but we don’t get our first real taste of it until the girlfriend brings the main character to the pakeha party. After dancing for a bit they return to their drinks and a pakeha male asks the narrator’s girlfriend to dance. She says no and when he inquires why, only to learn that she was dating a Samoan, he is disappointed with her and disgusted with him. Though this is simply the view of one, it seems to be the belief of the majority. The other major belief about sex is that of subjugation, in this case subjugating Samoan men with pakeha women. This is evident very early on while our narrator is in high school. His first time was after a dance and a pakeha female had sex with him, only to gloat to her friends the next day and dehumanize him as a prize she won. This is also seen after the narrator has his first mini “break up” with his soon to be girlfriend, before he decides to commit to her. While on the bus a pakeha woman brushes up against him and he follows her to her apartment where she gives him a strip tease, before having sex with him, and jests that he loves pakeha women and would be more than happy to fuck her. Though this is an act of validation for the pakeha woman, it is validation through having power over the narrator, even if it was just pity sex for him. I believe these two beliefs about cross ethnic sex are very much intertwined, as there is power directly derived from having this dominating form of sex, but also an indirect power by saying that even though you are worth having sex with, having a cross ethnic baby is out of the picture, thus dehumanizing the Samoans. Samoans actually have similar beliefs, but for some different reasoning.
The Samoans in New Zealand have cross ethnic sex primarily as a defense and as a form of validation. The defensive side of cross ethnic sex derives from the dominating idealisms of the pakeha. The narrator, after being dominated by his first pakeha woman and dehumanized, decides to preemptively have sex with the other pakeha women that ogle him in order to gain the upper hand and ignore them, thus dehumanizing them and not the other way around. This is also reflected in the idea of not becoming connected with other individuals in any way, especially in love, as the narrator talks about after being questioned as to why he didn’t help the injured man who was thrown out of a car. The other belief in cross ethnic sex is doing it as a form of validation, which I also find as a reaction to pakeha sex beliefs. The narrator, while at Oriental Bay, recalls talking to his brother about his conquest over a sun tanning pakeha woman by gloating that he had a permanent sun tan all the way to the tip. By pakeha women lusting over the men because they have Samoan features, it makes them proud of their Samoan heritage, when in actuality the women are most likely having sex with them as a conquest and couldn’t care less about them. These may be the majority, but there is a young minority that has a more positive light of sex.
Though still products of their environment, there is a young minority, as expressed through the main couple, that sees and uses sex as a way of transcending ethnic boundaries created by society. By having sex with others because of a physical attraction or because you love the other individual, it negates the importance of ethnicity for these young individuals. This is not to say that the main couple is color blind, far from it. They not only see ethnicity, but they seek to understand each other through both physical oneness and through communication. This is in contrast to the majority, which seeks to use the opposing ethnicity through sex instead of using it as a common language for communication. This is best stated after the narrator’s girlfriend grabs his cock and saying, “It’s gentle and understanding; it talks very fluently and it can overcome all racial barriers. Or any other barrier that needs overcoming” (65). This statement, and as an extension the cross ethnic views sex according to each group, shows us the different views of the future and how the future may turn out.
It is obvious that the old blood of society, The New Zealanders and Samoans, do not seek to progress society in a mutual fashion, they either want to progress it in their favor or keep to their own entirely. The new generation, not all of them but a significant minority, is where a hope for a better tomorrow lies, which comes through their sexual openness. Frivolity in and of itself is not an automatic pathway to mutual progress, but sexual desire as seen through our main character’s relationship, is. To choose to become one with someone with a time without the worries and opinions of the world allows a one on one connection between the two people with a common “language” that transcends every barrier. It is in this erotic faith in one another that we may achieve a oneness with each other and progress mutually instead of selfishly.