In Potiki, every action taken is to preserve the family and the people you love build your home. Reuben ‘s resistance to attend school is because all he learns in school is “that I’m not somebody, that my ancestors were rubbish and so I’m rubbish too” (74). School becomes a place where the home is torn down when an individual is different. School should be a place of growth in which a valuing of the self occurs, but when “othering” occurs because the home is not good enough for what society says an individual’s growth is stunted.
My home has always resisted on the supports of my family. Though my family is not very big, it is still “something to always remember” (55). There are five of us: one mom, one dad, two brothers, and one sister (me). My brother Kyle, who is four years older than me, was always a trouble maker in school. My mom constantly received phone calls from the principal, and Kyle constantly received pink slips. No matter what Kyle did, he was always in the wrong.
There was one boy in Kyle’s class whom Kyle could not tolerate. If Kyle was Batman, this boy was the Joker. And though I am now close with my brother, I never knew why he thoroughly disliked this individual—though I never asked, until a few years ago. I was reminiscing with my mother about the Pre-K through 8, Catholic school that my brothers and I all attended for ten years of our lives. I brought up the boy in Kyle’s class and my mom told me the story that shaped my brother’s experience:
When my brother was in first grade, this boy came up to Kyle and told my big brother that “his family didn’t belong at this school, because we are poor.” And from that moment on Kyle decided to fight him.
Hearing this story fifteen years after it happened sickened me. My brother spent his time at school defending his family, though the school setting was a place that told him he was “rubbish” (74). Kyle’s lack of interest in school is completely understandable now that I know the whole story. Children should not be in a place where their family and ancestors are devalued. What truly bothers me about my brother’s experience is not that my family was called poor, people can say whatever they want because I adore my family, what bothers me is that a child said those words. A child was judging people on their material possessions. Society’s failings are in the words that this seven year old boy spoke.
Grace writes “Yet poverty is not a good word. Poverty is destructive too. We didn’t not have real poverty. We had homes and enough good food, or nearly always enough. We had people and land and a good spirit, and work that was important to us all” (108). We cannot define people by money. We cannot take away an individual’s human qualities and replace them with financial wealth. We cannot turn the land and the sea into a “million dollar view” (92). When we begin to define people by money, like the Dollarman, we devalue the human that inside of the individual. We look at people who are materially poor as “a broken race” (102), we see a person who is “decrepit, deranged, deformed” (102). When that boy looked into my brother’s face all he saw was a deformed individual. Grace warns us against writing off a person because they define wealth differently. Grace states that there is “nothing wrong with money as long as we remember it’s food not God. You eat it, not worship it…” (94). The stories an individual tells defines his or her character.
In Potiki, the Mr. Dolman completely disregards “the warmth of past gatherings, and of people that had come and gone, and who gathered now in memory” (88) because when Mr. Dolman looks at Toko and his family all he sees is “a broken race” (102) destroyed by poverty. Mr. Dolman devalues the love of a family because the family is not rich by Dolman’s own materialistic standards. Mr. Dolman ends up removing the identity of a culture and clumping everyone under the category of poor. To Mr. Dolman everyone is “you people” (93), and no one deserve respect.
Grace shows the reader that money leads to a loss of value in an individual’s life. People who are others, and appear to be “broken” aren’t seen as equals but as people to be pitied. When in reality the homes that are created through love are richer than anything money can buy.