Thursday, March 3, 2011

To Be At Home...

In Sons for the Return Home, Albert Wendt paints a picture of two lovers: a Samoan boy living in New Zealand, and a white New Zealander girl. Their love is an unlikely one, for when the story begins the boy is very withdrawn and against all things New Zealand, including all pakeha (white people). The girl, ironically, is exactly that—a beautiful, popular, white girl, unknowledgeable in the ways of the Samoans. As the two get to know each other better and fall more in love, their differences start to disappear and they start to discover that their homes are within each other. However, Sons for the Return Home exemplifies the fact that while we can find our home in another person, it is not quite so simple; it is not an all or nothing feeling.

The boy has been ill at ease in New Zealand since his arrival there as a child, and although the girl is a native of New Zealand, she has a troubled home life which prevents her from being fully happy there. However, Wendt proves that once they are together, they finally realize a type of home, created out of their love. For example, Wendt says they were, “living totally within each other’s laughter and warmth and flesh, as summer flowered towards Christmas” (50). The home we are speaking of is obviously not a physical thing, and therefore is a conceptual thing. It is pretty safe to say that most people would explain a conceptual home as one where someone feels safe, content, and accepted. It is the happiness and “warmth” in this case that the two get from each other that creates their type of home, because are not those two things what an ideal home should be? Further, two pages later, Wendt says the boy “felt at home in [the city] for the first time in his life” (52). It is an incredible concept that simply having someone special with you in an otherwise hated or meaningless place can make that place a home.

However, this is not a perfect concept. Although the characters are able to find homes within each other’s love and company, the feeling of safety and joy cannot be constant. The best example of this is when the boy takes the girl to the Samoan church party. Wendt emphasizes that the boy knew that the girl was uncomfortable and unprepared for the party, but did nothing to stop it because he wanted her to experience the feeling of being an outsider. She becomes so uncomfortable, in fact, that, “returning alone when the dance ended, she sat down beside him and he noticed that she was on the verge of tears” (62). Clearly, in this situation, the girl is unable to feel at home in his natural setting, despite the fact that he is there. Likewise, when the girl brings him to her party, he is isolated and uncomfortable himself. These scenes are shown as proof that even though the two can be totally at home when they are alone together, in their respective larger societies it is not so simple.

If we take these ideas into our own lives, it is interesting to observe who makes us feel at home, and whether it is lasting. The best example I can think of from my own life is the summer I spent in Africa when I was seventeen. I was of course a complete outside, both in looks and culture. I did my best to be outgoing but it was nonetheless challenging to feel like I wasn’t being stared at all the time, or being called at from the streets. In the beginning, I was no doubt enjoying the different culture but I couldn’t help but feel ill at ease. None of that lasted too long, though, because it didn’t take me very long to fall in love. I don’t mean fall in love like the story in Sons for the Return Home, but I mean fall in love with all the orphans I was teaching and taking care of. Loving them gave me a reason to be there, and being loved by them made me not want to leave, made me feel like I belonged there. Still, like the boy and girl, it wasn’t a constant feeling, because there were still times when I felt so out of place. Since everyone knew I was from a foreign country, they always wanted to talk to me, and even though I was trying to be a shining volunteer changing the world, I was still human who got into bad moods and wanted to walk alone! I think, if I may be allowed to use this example in comparison to the story in the book, I understand how powerful love is in making someone feel comfortable and full of joy.

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