Themes and Meanings

(Masterpieces of American Fiction)

Hawaii’s main theme is the development of the present-day Hawaiian, the “Golden Men” of the final section: Kelly Kanakoa, Hong Kong Kee, who is one of Char Nyuk Tsin’s descendants, Shigeo Sakagawa, and Hoxworth Hale. The latter, both as a representative of the best in the blend of peoples that is Hawaii (he is descended from both missionaries and the Kanakoas) and as the teller of this lengthy tale, is not quite credible, nor is he revealed as the narrator until the final pages. As a ruthlessly reactionary capitalist in many episodes, Hoxworth Hale scarcely seems to have the insight shown in the treatment of labor unrest, the hardships and injustices borne by the immigrants and Hawaiians; nor does he seem likely to have had firsthand accounts of life in early China and Japan. When he travels to other Pacific islands, he points out the ways in which things had been done better in Hawaii, but does not acknowledge anything that had been a mistake.

Almost of equal importance for Michener to the development of the Hawaiian character is the use that people make of the land, though the emphasis is upon growth and development. The first settlers introduced new plants and animals, and subsequent immigrants brought new ideas, new ways of growing or producing goods. The missionaries are appalled at the stripping of sandalwood from the islands, and Abner Hale encourages Malama to stop these practices. Linked to the theme of land use and development is that of thrift, hard work, and willingness to take risks to achieve a goal, traits brought to the islands by the missionaries and reinforced by the Chinese. The Hawaiians’ contribution, and a crucial one, is the attitude of aloha, a good-natured tolerance of other people, a fondness for children, and a zest for living. These traits enable the more convention-and tradition-conscious Americans, Chinese, Japanese, Filipinos, and many others to intermarry, exchange cultural ideas, and eventually cooperate in business ventures. Michener had planned a section on emigrants from the Philippine Islands, the only major ethnic group not dealt with in the novel, but he abandoned it after he realized that it would make the length of the novel, already more than nine hundred pages, prohibitive.