Wednesday, March 2, 2011

A Mother's Love?

Since coming to Loyola I have found that when I think “home”, the first image that comes to mind is that of my parents. More than our physical house and more than any single memory, the thought of them comforts me and gives me that feeling of being safe at home. This is, I realize, not a universal occurrence, a reality illustrated in Sons for the Return Home. For the girl throughout the novel and for the boy for the latter part of it, their parents actually push them away from home, albeit unintentionally. Since this is such a short assignment, I would prefer to focus on one of these relationships, which is the boy’s with his mother.

Of course, every parent wants the best for his/her child, but what happens when that parent oversteps his/her bounds, and instead of supporting the child actually tries to control him/her? While I have been blessed with incredibly supportive parents who I feel have never attempted this type of parental control (sometimes I like to think this is because I have always been the perfect daughter), I have had friends in the past whose relationships with their parents have been less than ideal, and I have at times witnessed the battles fought, usually between mother and daughter. The most severe and at times terrible conflicts occur over the child’s romantic life as mothers disapprove of their daughters love interests who are never good enough. Clearly the same happens in mother-son relationships as it does in Wendt’s novel. The tension here lies between the boy’s loyalty to his parents--who had given up their home for their sons to receive good educations and whose very identities entirely revolved around their Samoan heritage--and his loyalty to his own independence and his own desires.

The first major point of conflict occurs in chapter 26 when the boy informs his parents that he wants to marry the palagi girl. The mother’s obvious prejudice against the girl becomes exposed as she exclaims, “She is palagi. You cannot love her enough to want to marry her!” (134). What is most interesting here is that her very reasoning concludes that because the girl is of non-Samoan descent her son cannot possibly love her, at least not to the point of wanting to spend his life with her. She goes on to ask her son if he loves the girl more than his parents, and his telling silence answers in the affirmative. Although the boy had always assumed his home was back in Samoa, the land of his family, the place which his parents still called home and told him was his home, once he discovers the girl in New Zealand and falls in love with her, he comes to realize the dream of his beautiful, perfect homeland and his allegiance to his parents are both empty images. This is perhaps, to a certain extent, the fault of the parents, especially the mother, who constantly told the boys the place where they lived was not their true home. In doing so, the mother and father never allowed their sons to have a home, making them feel like outsiders where they lived and encouraging them to long for a land more foreign to them than New Zealand. The mother refuses to accept New Zealand, which ultimately leads the boy to refuse to accept Samoa and his place with her and the rest of the family.

Finally, their tense relationship reaches its breaking point in chapter 38, the second to last chapter of the book. When he tells his mother he wishes to return to New Zealand, she says, “She can’t come back to you anyway” (214). This is the moment when he realizes his mother encouraged the girl to have an abortion, the event which ultimately ends their intense, passionate and short-lived romance. He had created his home in New Zealand with the girl, and once he loses the girl he loses the only true home he has ever known. The son slaps his mother and claims he no longer belongs to her, which is grounds for a Samoan son to be exiled from his community (though I think he probably means this figuratively). In slapping her, he blames her for ruining his chance of ultimately realizing his true home, and this slap also signifies his rejection of both her and Samoa as his images of home. In the final chapter he returns to New Zealand, which is only a part of the whole of his “home” with the girl. While he does not intend on finding her again, he does abandon his family and the empty image of home they convey to him.

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