In Sons for the Return Home, Albert Wendt illustrates life in New Zealand during modern times, but shows an ongoing conflict that has occurred between cultures for years. By showing readers the cultural conflict that exists, we are able to experience what their home is truly like. The land is beautiful, but many of the people that inhabit it fight and hate one another. Wendt does not sugarcoat how New Zealanders and other islanders may act towards each other, and we as the reader are able to gain a deeper understanding of what life is like, and what the character’s value as home.
In everyday life, family is typically an important part of one’s homeland. Family members are some of the people that influence us the most, and often give opinions that we take to heart. The reason why we often take our families thoughts so seriously is because we trust them to have their best interest in us, so most things they say, we agree with them. In the boy’s case, his family believes that Samoa is the greatest country to live on Earth, and they long to return back. They continuously planted this idea into the boy’s mind, so his thoughts of home were always of Samoa. Patriotism is an excellent trait to possess, but it is not beneficial to oneself or those around you to not be willing to adapt to a new environment if need be. The boy’s family follows this description exactly, and they are only torturing themselves by not trying to fit in, but are also hurting their son. The effect of this makes their son feel hatred, anger and an unwillingness to be part of another culture. We see these effects both physically and mentally within the boy. Physically, we see his anger through his actions, like when he first meets the girl and tries to ignore her. Mentally, we see this distaste for others through the way he speaks shortly and unkindly. The dialogue he has with other people that do not treat Samoans with respect shows this unkind manner about him.
Throughout the novel, Wendt develops his characters so that the reader is able to understand their different senses of home. Although the boy has been influenced by his family about what their home should be, his beliefs of his homeland seem to change as the novel progresses and he gets to know his girlfriend. It seems as though the change comes from the fact that he meets a girl who is much more open to learning about different cultures. Even though the girl is from New Zealand, she is more receptive and willing to learn about other groups of people – even those that colonized her country. Most people would have been unhappy and frustrated that other groups of people were coming to their country and not being appreciative of it, but the girl did not think that way. By having that mindset, the girl was able to positively influence her boyfriend so that he was more open to creating a homeland in New Zealand.
I think that the girl is extremely mature for having these views about other cultures, and her influence is mind-opening and inspiring for the boy. In the moments that Wendt illustrated where she influences the boy, it made me put myself in her shoes and think about how she may be feeling. If I were her, I would probably feel very uncomfortable getting to know a boy who has such an immense hatred towards other cultures, but has no true reason to support his argument. I think that she handled herself well in those situations and was able to disconnect herself from the hatred that often exists in New Zealand. The girl’s homeland seems to be more of the nature within New Zealand, as she seems happiest when she is outdoors, like when they go camping and road-tripping along the coast. We see the boy’s love for her despite what even his family thinks later in the novel. In chapter 26, he tells his parents how he wants to marry the girl despite his family’s disapproval. “’I have no choice,’ he said. ‘I love her more than anything else.’” (134). We also see a sense of anger within him, but the anger has changed from hating other cultures, to hating his own culture for not being accepting of others. This is a significant change within the boy, and we see his eyes fully open to acceptance and love, which was not a trait we saw in the beginning of the novel. This shows how significantly his homeland changed and his appreciation and love for his girlfriend and her home.
Wendt does an excellent job portraying how groups of people interact and hold a bitterness against one another, even if they are living in the same country. Homeland is something that many people are proud of and will do anything to defend. We see the boy and his passion for Samoa in the beginning of the novel, but see that fervor fade away slowly as he gets to know his girlfriend and understands how other cultures and people live.