In my Shakespeare class we recently read The Merchant of Venice. What stayed with me the most, and relates to today’s topic was the character of Shylock, the Jew. Even though he is a native Venetian, he is treated as scum, always being hailed the as ‘the Jew’, people spit in his face and hold him with contempt. He is alien amongst them and is treated like a plague in the city. What differentiates Sons of the Return from the other of the other books is the specific focus of the ‘alien’ in a different homeland. It is very obvious in the beginning and this is the question of how a majority views the minority culture in society, and what in turn these minorities, these aliens feel of the majority population. It is a simple question of how a culture accepts such people, are they indeed accept into the society? Or are these foreigners always to remain aliens from another land. Such a concept has been around forever, and is still prevalent in modern countries like the U.S or like in the book, New Zealand. The question now is, have we evolved to incorporate the alien, or does society still see them as just another foreign people.
The book follows a nameless young Samoan and his family as they try to make a life for themselves in New Zealand. From the time they arrive they are outsiders, and they know it, but even as the boy (and his brother) go to school, adopt New Zealand dress and language they are still met with the glare of an outcast. No matter his accomplishments, he is still seen as ‘the Samoan boy’: “At first he was proud of being (and treated as) ‘the best Samoan student our school has ever had’” (12). Apart from being seen as an outsider, some of the people outwardly discriminate him and his brother solely for the sake of their skin color and Samoan background: “the principal- the same condescending man who refused to call you by your name today- caned him in front of the whole school and called him “a brainless islander who should be deported back to the islanders”.” (14) in this passage we see not only a solid prejudiced against the boy’s heritage, but the outright desire to shun him from the New Zealand culture. When taking both examples into consideration it is clear that there is a common ground. On one hand society can sometimes attempt to accept the alien, yet at the same time they can still view them as just the foreigner (best Samoan student). Even if they do accept the immigrant as a whole, there might still be prejudices hidden in the mind and outwardly expressed. Although the person might become part of the new society in time, they may still be seen as an outsider first.
The story also reveals that prejudice takes several sides. Of course there is the native homeland that looks down upon the new immigrants, but the alien nation can also show prejudice against the native culture. As one progresses through the reading, they learn that the boy in question himself has grown bitter of the earlier treatment of his people and therefore gains general distrust for all papalagi (whites). Even when the character becomes intimate with a native New Zealander his own family exhibit their own hesitance of accepting a papalagi into their fold: “She won’t fit into Somoa.” (73) Even while they themselves are persecuted, the Samoans in turn allow themselves to feel prejudice towards other people.
What struck me about this reading was that it was very human. It shows that every culture is capable of excluding and yet incorporating another. While humans can appear accepting, inner hostilities can still harbor thoughts of another’s inferiority. From any walk of life, in any age group, any culture, Sons for the Return shows that present in all of these is the capacity for prejudice against someone who is merely different.