When the girl goes to speak to her father about the possibility of marrying the boy, he says to her, “We become creatures we never really mean to because of circumstances, our own selfishness, etc., etc., etc., and of course, because of the little lies we tell ourselves” (144). The girl’s father seems to lament the same emotional distress the boy later reveals at the close of the novel. He foreshadows the theme of self-betrayal and the duty we have to ourselves to seek happiness at the expense of loosing someone or something else. As the girl’s father suggests, we permit our own minds to lie to themselves, an idea that seems almost paradoxical. How can a person lie to him or herself when they are actually the one lying? The idea seems twisted, almost inconceivable from a communicative perspective, yet in reality, the concept still exists.
When I first came to Loyola and met my roommates I suddenly wondered why I was planning to major in English, and not business, like the three of them. I had always been confident in my desire to pursue a degree in English Literature and I looked forward to the career opportunities that would await me after graduation. Suddenly, however, meeting my roommates shattered this confidence and I began to wonder why I hadn’t before considered business. What did they know about this popular career field that I didn’t?
After speaking with my first-year advisor, I decided that I would experiment with some economic courses and attempt to minor in business. While talking with her she asked me why I enjoyed English and what led me to this choice of major so early in college career. I began to explain to her that my appreciation for English originated sometime back in middle school, when I developed an interest in creative writing, poetry, and reading. I had had a variety of excellent teachers who shared with me their passion for literature breathing life into classic novels making them a living part of my own life. I quickly connected with the idea that all novels attempt to explore a degree of universality, that whatever background a person comes from, books serve as great unifier and piece of all humanity. I explained to her that I wanted to continue this relationship I had with literature throughout my experience at Loyola not because it was any harder or easier than another degree, but because it felt like home to me. Reading and writing the works of others around the world has always felt familiar to me and even somewhat comforting.
After explaining all of this to my advisor, she looked at me quite oddly as if to say, “Why leave your ‘home’ when you’re just getting started?” She encouraged me to pursue English because it was clearly a part of who I was, much like the town you grow up in, or your favorite food. It was something I effortlessly loved and couldn’t seem to compromise despite my roommates’ insistence that English was not a “real” major – something I have since changed their minds about now three years later.
Similarly, Wendt’s novel “Sons for the Return Home,” emphasizes the importance of being truthful to oneself despite the difficulty such honesty may pose. The girl’s father warns her against not pursuing what makes her happiest, be it a significant other, homeland, or even a college major. He says to her, “I’m too bloody old to change, to be what you want,” or quite possibly, to be what he once wanted (144). There is a sense of regret in his tone, as well as anger, much like the boy’s behavior in the final chapters of the novel. The boy is angered by his mother’s actions towards the girl and returns to New Zealand with a sense of mournful longing. He “searched through his papers for the seven poems he had written about her” and “as he read them she came alive again” (217). He was reminded of his realization that “by loving her, he was feeling for the first time a growing and meaningful attachment to the country which had bred her” (24). The girl was his happiness, his true and utter living joy that defined his world. Without her he was forced into a life he did not truly love. He “doesn’t think he can live” in Samoa, because his living depends on her being alongside him (216). Like the girl’s father warned her, we tell ourselves little lies instead of truly following our bliss becoming closer to “creatures” than as actual human beings (144). The creatures we become accept the little lies, but our inner selves do not.
It was not until the boy “tore up each poem carefully” that he came to terms with the “creature” he had allowed himself to become through the little lies he told himself and permitted others to tell him (217). He realized that he was “finally free of his dead,” those lies that restricted him from feeling at home within himself (217). Whether or not he needed the girl to return to his life, he needed to recognize that he was lying to himself about feeling at home in Samoa and continuing to long for her presence. By finally moving on he faced the lies he had been telling himself and allowing his mother to enforce upon him. Unlike the girl’s father, he stopped himself before the lies overtook him and he was left wondering if he would ever feel at home again.