Saturday, 23 March 2013

PEARL BUTTON


  


Comments on How Pearl Button was Kidnapped



 A girl is sitting outside her house alone when she is greeted by some Maori passers-by.   They ask her if she’s going with them and she does.   She’s affectionately treated,  and after a bit joins them on a cart, and ends up at the seaside, astonished because she’s never seen the sea before.  They’re easy going, and their children are well fed and friendly.

At first you feel perhaps she has been kidnapped, but as the story goes on their simplicity and kindness make you think that they really are just being friendly.  But it’s left ambiguous why they should have taken her so far from home.  At all events she goes voluntarily and has a wonderful time. Mansfield writes,

“Pearl had never been happy like this before.”  

She finds their simply happy life too good to be true.  She asks them about their living arrangements, saying,

“Don’t you all live in a row?  Don’t the men go to offices?  Aren’t there any nasty things?”   

The ‘nasty things’ strongly suggests that her treatment at home is anything but kind.    You begin to think that whether she’s been kidnapped or not she might just stay with the Maoris and become one of them, ‘go native’ in the colonialist terminology.  It would be a sort of fairy story with a happy ending.

But then, when she goes into the sea paddling – a kind of baptism perhaps? -   they are suddenly interrupted by “little men in blue coats”  blowing whistles and shouting.  These men, policemen,  take her back home.  The dream is over.   But she has ‘seen’ something, an alternative to the way she’s treated at home, and that’s the centre of the story.  Whether, technically, she’s been kidnapped doesn’t matter.   To the Maoris she hasn’t been.  To the Whites she has.

This intervention by the colonialist world,  colonialist law, destroys the idyllic life style she meets, or at least has a vision of.   The intervention prevents the story from risking sentimentality by having her simply melt into the ‘natural life’ of the Maoris.   But that idea comes into our minds and is made to contrast with her life in a ‘row’ of houses with a father who goes to the office, and nasty things happen.   No doubt nasty things happen in Maori households,  but that’s not the point.  She’s realised something about her own style of life.

Beyond that, we get a glimpse of the background of Mansfield’s work, and indeed her New Zealand culture, the sense of the Maoris in the background, the culture which was destroyed by Europeans, but which is always ‘there’ in the unconscious of white New Zealanders.   


A girl is sitting outside her house alone when she is greeted by some Maori passers-by.   They ask her if she’s going with them and she does.   She’s affectionately treated,  and after a bit joins them on a cart, and ends up at the seaside, astonished because she’s never seen the sea before.  They’re easy going, and their children are well fed and friendly.

At first you feel perhaps she has been kidnapped, but as the story goes on their simplicity and kindness make you think that they really are just being friendly.  But it’s left ambiguous why they should have taken her so far from home.  At all events she goes voluntarily and has a wonderful time. Mansfield writes,

“Pearl had never been happy like this before.”  

She finds their simply happy life too good to be true.  She asks them about their living arrangements, saying,

“Don’t you all live in a row?  Don’t the men go to offices?  Aren’t there any nasty things?”   

The ‘nasty things’ strongly suggests that her treatment at home is anything but kind.    You begin to think that whether she’s been kidnapped or not she might just stay with the Maoris and become one of them, ‘go native’ in the colonialist terminology.  It would be a sort of fairy story with a happy ending.

But then, when she goes into the sea paddling – a kind of baptism perhaps? -   they are suddenly interrupted by “little men in blue coats”  blowing whistles and shouting.  These men, policemen,  take her back home.  The dream is over.   But she has ‘seen’ something, an alternative to the way she’s treated at home, and that’s the centre of the story.  Whether, technically, she’s been kidnapped doesn’t matter.   To the Maoris she hasn’t been.  To the Whites she has.

This intervention by the colonialist world,  colonialist law, destroys the idyllic life style she meets, or at least has a vision of.   The intervention prevents the story from risking sentimentality by having her simply melt into the ‘natural life’ of the Maoris.   But that idea comes into our minds and is made to contrast with her life in a ‘row’ of houses with a father who goes to the office, and nasty things happen.   No doubt nasty things happen in Maori households,  but that’s not the point.  She’s realised something about her own style of life.

Beyond that, we get a glimpse of the background of Mansfield’s work, and indeed her New Zealand culture, the sense of the Maoris in the background, the culture which was destroyed by Europeans, but which is always ‘there’ in the unconscious of white New Zealanders.   

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