Confronting America's Inanimate Presence (IV): Once Were Warriors

Margaret Hander'00 English 27, 1997

America's role in this book resembles it's role in Aké: the Years of Childhood. Again it offers a tempting path to self-obliteration in impersonal modern pleasures. "The Tennessee Waltz" is one such pleasure. The chapter begins as Beth wakes up battered, remembering that she should have been in court with her son. She drinks herself into a stupor in front of her children while dancing to her favorite record in the living room. "I was dancing (oh yes) -- with my darling (mmmm) to the Tennessee Waltz! Beth adding her voice to that of Patti Page" (43)." The drunken bar clientele also escape to the same song on numerous occasions.

An American life would be better than their own, the Maori pretend. Beth's children decorate their walls with the faces of American pop stars (33), the Brown Fists fantasize about American fighters (136) as they substitute the "Tennessee Waltz" with more modern American music. Jake, when drunk on beer and egotism, "felt like a chief, a Maori warrior chief -- no, not a Maori chief . . . an Indian chief, a real Injun, not one a them black thievin bastards own half the fuckin shops round town, a real Indian from comics and TV and America" (59-60).

Despite the allure of American "flash", Beth does not really want what she perceives to be an American life. She spends many afternoons sitting around the house watching "soapies," like "The Young and the Restless." One day, "the Yanks she was supposed to be watching were doing their usual drama stuff, beautiful people being nasty to each other, rich white bitches and bastards not satisfied with life being kind to em, they have to go and hurt each other" (3). Later when she wishes she could afford a decent TV and a stereo she thinks, "the TV hardly worth watching, those soaps didn't fool a woman, inspire her to wanting to be like them, the nasty vicious unhappy beautiful creatures, Jesus Christ, if they're real then who wants to be a Yank whitey?" (7). Later still, as Beth embraces knowledge of the past and begins to teach her neighbors to do the same, she thinks no more of America.

Overview New
Zealand Once Were

Last Modified: 15 March, 2002