The text, poetically conceived, is grounded with carefully realistic descriptions of New Zealand’s coast, landscapes, natural resources, villages, bars, and working folk. It is also rich with mythological and literary references, elaborate metaphors, and physical objects carrying obvious symbolic weight. The novel’s complexity has encouraged critics to develop a variety of interpretations, the most prevalent of which argue that Hulme’s style undermines the traditional, dominant form of literary narrative, giving voice to characters and themes historically overlooked or maginalized. In this way, it emphasizes a postcolonial and feminist perspective.
Kerewin’s character provides the most striking example of a nontraditional female character. Completely self-reliant, extraordinarily capable both physically and mentally, she desires no relationship and considers herself neuter. Though a typical heterosexual relationship suggests itself between Kerewin and Joe, their union is never physically affectionate, and Kerewin does not accept Joe as part of her family until he accepts her androgyny into his. Their relationship is unusual even in its details: She can drink more, fight better, catch more fish than Joe; he is constantly awed by her abilities, she is rarely awed by his. While their union depends on the presence of Simon, Kerewin never mothers the child. She chooses instead to treat Simon as an independent, able to take care of himself. That such a protagonist ultimately does acknowledge the importance of family, joining with a partner and becoming a parent, emphasizes the legitimacy of nontraditional families and the synergistic power of unions tied not by romance, sex, or obligation but by acceptance.
Simon and Joe also represent themes larger than themselves. Simon, washed ashore like New Zealand’s various tribes and colonists, is an allegorical representation of the immigrant. His silence represents the repressed voice of such a minority: He is misunderstood both by the empirical power that sent him there and by the new culture into which he...
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