Wednesday, March 2, 2011

Love's Role in Homelands

Love is definitely an integral, if not the most important factor, of homelands in Albert Wendt’s Sons for the Return Home. Love can truly create a homeland and give meaning to a specific place. My home would certainly not be home to me, I believe, if it weren’t for the love I have for my family and the love they have for me. I also definitely feel that certain places are a part of my homeland because of memories of spending time with my boyfriend in those places. I think that a homeland is more than just the place you grew up in; you choose your homeland as you grow older. And an important part of that choice is the person, or people, with whom you choose to spend time. That person can give significance to a place, so that it becomes a part of your physical homeland, and that person can become such a part of your homeland that you can feel at home with him in any place. I think that perhaps it is helpful to sometimes think of home as less of a “place” and more of a “space.” Although similar, I think that the words offer different connotations, and that rather than the physical area that a place might imply, a homeland might be more conditional. Homelands can shift, then, in this sense, in physical place, but there is always a certain condition that makes the space: one same factor. That factor, for many people as they grow older, is a loved one. Though we may say or believe that we don’t choose with whom we fall in love, committing to another person is still much more of a choice in homeland than many people have previously had. No one chooses where they are born or grow up, and no one chooses the family into which they are born. Homeland, initially, is more of a given. However, as you grow older, you are faced with more choices, and the possibility of a shifting homeland. With those choices, I think that your homeland becomes more your own and not just something passed down to you.

I definitely feel that areas I consider my homeland have been greatly affected by being with my boyfriend. The sushi place where we always eat on Main Street in Annapolis is important to me because it’s sort of “our place.” Downtown Annapolis and other places seem more special and more homey to me because I can remember dates we had at those places or times we spent together in those areas. I think that I consider Annapolis even more of my home now because I share it with him. I also think that the comfort I associate with home is something I also associate with my boyfriend now, so that even new or different places and situations can feel more comfortable and more like home if he is with me. Being in a relationship can also center you and give you more of a place, a homeland in and of itself. Knowing that you are completely happy with and in love with someone else, and knowing that they feel the same way, can bring you a further sense of belonging akin to that of a homeland. I think that Pat Monahan has a really poignant song about finding home through another person called “Her Eyes,” in which he says, “Her eyes: that’s where I go, when I go home.”

In Sons for the Return Home, the boy certainly seems to find a sense of home and his homeland through his relationship with the girl. Early on, he feels little to no attachment to New Zealand and seems to stay within the confines of his Samoan community. However, he still attends University and ventures out into the larger culture of New Zealand. Since he is so physically separated from the land he feels is his true home, Samoa, and feels such an emotional distance from the land he is in, New Zealand, it is almost as if he has no homeland and is simply in a “no man’s land” of sorts between the two. However, the girl changes all of that and actually makes him feel the comfort, happiness, and belonging of a typical homeland. On page 24, Wendt writes of the boy that “he admitted to himself that this was the happiest time he had ever spent in New Zealand. By loving her, he was feeling for the first time a growing and meaningful attachment to the country which had bred her.” He also later writes, concerning another time that the boy spends with the girl, that “Christmas sang in the heart of the city. And he felt at home in it for the first time in his life” (52).Through the girl, he begins to feel a sense of having a homeland, rather than simply making due until his “grand return” to the place where he truly belongs. He feels he belongs because, and when, he is with her.

In reading through this novel, I also noticed the idea of silence as being mentioned again and again, beginning with the moment when the girl tells the boy that he is talented “in the use of silence” (10). The grandfather, to whom the boy is ultimately compared by his father due to their similarities, is described as being able to “withdraw into a circle of impregnable silence” (31). The boy himself also describes silences at various times, either in positive or negative ways, such as when he says that “he hadn’t heard silence for a long time; he was hearing it now and it unnerved him” (82). I wondered if there might be a connection between this silence and the italicized words that come at the end of certain chapters. These words enter what might be considered the “silent spaces” of the text: the blank space on pages between chapters. The emphasis on the boy’s silence, as well as his grandfather’s silence, seemed to be, to me, connected to the fact that the boy and his grandfather see “clearly” and “honestly,” as the boy’s father points out (203). The silence is the space in which the boy thinks and perceives the world, and is also often the space in which he sees so clearly that he is in “permanent exile” because he can see how he straddles various cultures and places and is so critical of them that he cannot accept fully belonging to any one of them. However, when he is with the girl in Part 1 of the book, the boy’s silence, his critique, is filled and replaced with the sense of total belonging he feels with the girl. The homeland of his relationship with the girl is one to which he feels he can truly belong. He embraces it fully and it is without critique for him, or, at least, the criticisms he might have concerning his relationship are outweighed by the positive aspects of it. His silence is filled with love, and the silent spaces of many of the chapters that tell of time spent with the girl are filled with italicized words relating to their relationship or the love between them. Rather than the critical silence, even of the blank page between chapters that may even give readers the opportunity to critically consider the previous chapter and its portrayal of homeland, there are the italicized words relating the love and relationship of the boy and girl, who together create a homeland.

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